Overcoming adversity and embracing life

A medical mishap leaves a perfectly healthy baby with a life-long disability. The child learns to live with their disability and embraces it, only to be struck down by cancer later in life.

This is not a dreamt-up premise for the latest film to come out of Hollywood. For Ballarat's Angela Moore - this is her reality.

But Angela's story doesn't end there. Her film builds to a crescendo of triumph over adversity. The current scene; a smiling, happy woman excited by what the future holds.

Her closing credits now seem a long way off.


IT WAS 1970 and a Stawell family were enjoying the birth of their new baby girl, Angela.

At 14 weeks of age, a doctor made note of what he believed to be a slightly-larger-than-normal head and referred the matter to a specialist.

During an examination, the specialist left the theatre and an unsupervised intern made a mistake - which caused Angela to acquire spastic cerebral palsy.

The condition affects Angela's arms and legs, but the determined little girl powered through life like nothing was wrong.

Her childhood memories are of happy times, despite the obvious differences between her and other children.

“We had lots of trips to Melbourne for physio appointments and things like that - but generally we just made the most of it,” Angela said.

“Mum and Dad said I was a good person and that it was all just bad luck.”

Angela's daily battle turned into a minor annoyance before it became life as normal.

Limited treatment options dried up completely as she hit puberty so from then on, Angela embraced her disability as simply part of her - but only a very small part.

“I've always been on a hiding - I just get on with it,” she laughed in an interview last week.

While the physical hurdles were no big deal for Angela as she progressed through to adulthood, the emotional ones were a little tougher to overcome.

As she says, disability is simply a label - an adjective to describe a condition.

It shouldn't have any sort of negative stigma attached to it - but it does.

“It's an attitude thing, it's a perception thing,” she said.

“If you see me in a nightclub at 2am, you're probably not going to say g'day.”

“Having a disability ... it's a small part of the person I am, but it's something that you can see and it's something that people make subconscious judgements on.”

Some of those judgements have been slightly more than subconscious in Angela's experience.

A highly educated woman, Angela inquired about enrolling in a Diploma of Education course at a Victorian university on the suggestion of a career adviser.

When she spoke to the course co-ordinator, his enthusiasm was less than ideal.

“The bloke looked at me and said 'I'll cut to the chase, you wont last 10 minutes with year 8 boys, I won't accept your application.'”

“So I applied at a different university and they accepted my application.”

With a Masters in Special Needs already under her belt, Angela undertook the diploma to get a job as a teacher, which she did in Ararat.

She maintains while the course co-ordinator's attitude was less than ideal, she didn't let it get to her too much.

“That university course co-ordinator made a decision on what he saw,” she said.

“He didn't know my academic transcript, he didn't know me at all - he just went on what he saw.

“We live in a very image-based world.”

Angela said some things used to get to her, but she had since adopted a very selfless attitude towards such behaviour.

“I guess you get to your 40s and you think ‘if it's me, at least they're leaving someone else alone' - it's just water off a duck's back.”

“People fear difference and I think that's the problem.”

So, in 2012, at age 42, Angela Moore was happy.

She was happy at home, she was happy at school - she was even happy doing her share of the yard duty at lunchtimes.

Then one day, out of the blue, a routine trip into town was the beginning of Angela's toughest challenge yet.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“A friend said I should get a checkup, so I went in to make an appointment and they said they can fit you in now.

“I got a phone call soon after and got called back in ... the second mammogram and ultrasound had been done and I went to the surgeon straight away.”

A mastectomy and six rounds of chemotherapy followed.

The treatment was so brutal, the proud Angela Moore, who never let her disability get in the way of doing normal things like walking, could barely get out of bed.

“I wasn't able to actually walk to outside the door - I couldn't get down the steps (of my parent's house) for 12 days,” she said.

“Three weeks after that, I could barely hold weight through my legs.

“I was pretty crook there for a while. There were times I couldn't have breakfast ... I couldn't do anything. It really guts you.”

She said her experience growing up with a disability such as spastic cerebral palsy gave her clarity of mind and perhaps a hardened edge required to get through the gruelling treatment regime.

“It has probably toughened me ... it has probably been good for oncology,” she said.

“I was a borderline chemo case... I didn't have to have it, I was given a choice.

“But the alternative for not doing it is signing your own death certificate - who wants to do that in their 40s?”

During her difficult time, Angela found some solace, some focus and some drive by writing her story down for the Thousand Voices Project - an online collection of life narratives.

She wrote 10,000 words on her incredible life, from that first examination as a baby to her diagnosis with breast cancer 42 years later.

Those receiving the story were impressed. So impressed, that they collaborated with the publishers at John Hopkins University Press to invite Angela to write some more.

This time though she would get paid and had to condense her story to a more manageable 2000 words.

On December 11, an article appeared in the internationally respected journal Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics. Its title: A Medical Mishap by Angela Moore.

“One of lecturers said that not too many people get contracts like that,” she said.

“It's a bit special I guess.”

In the article, Angela calls for a greater understanding from the populace towards people with a disability and places an emphasis on people living with a disability to embrace their condition and look beyond it.

“Having an acquired physical disability is a small part of the person I am,” she writes.

“The manner in which I acquired a severe physical disability is what I have come to value along with the fact that I have done well in many areas of life while having such a severe condition.”

Angela said penning her thoughts for consideration in the journal took just six days.

“It's not too bad for someone that was pretty sick,” she said.

“I guess it gave me a focus. A reason to come home and gave me something to think about other than being sick.”

As for the future, Angela doesn't see challenges - she sees opportunities.

“I'm eating well and I'm back home. So that's good.

“I'd like to go back to work, but we'll see what happens.”

She says she can't thank her family, oncology staff at both Ballarat hospitals and her friends enough for their support over the last 12 months.

And with cancer hopefully in Angela's rearview mirror, she hopes to continue her work advocating for people with a disability.

“I can't write - I can't write my name ... but I'm not too bad at typing,” she said.

“If you work hard and believe in yourself, the world is your oyster.”

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