Among her many hobbies, Deb Rielly likes to draw. All of her sketches are inspired, at least partly by her experience fighting and ultimately beating breast cancer.

EVERY day, Deb Rielly reads a Confucius quote pinned to her fridge: ‘The greatest glory is not in never falling but rising every time we fall’. She’s a mother, a lifesaver, a survivor… and she lives by these words. “It just means if you get knocked down, you get back up again and attack, attack, attack,” Deb says, an ever-present determination in her voice. If ever she sounded defeated, people would surely understand. Deb, a Wonthaggi-based paramedic, beat breast cancer last decade, but that was only her first hurdle. The disease wouldn’t let go of her entirely, and she now faces ongoing treatment, possibly for the remainder of her life, to combat secondary spinal cancer. But, as always, Deb’s voice is one of motivation, not gloom. “The prognosis is positive,” she says. “It’s not curable, but it’s treatable. “I plan on beating it and getting back to my crazy lifestyle.” As can be quickly gathered by glancing at her physique, Deb likes to exercise. A lot. Even as she endures the rigours of cancer treatment, the mother-of-two still runs, cycles, swims and surfs on a frighteningly regular basis. She admits part of the reason she continues to push herself to the limit is because exercise helps to keep the pain at bay, but she has also been a confessed fitness addict since delving into the world of Iron Man competition in 2007. It was in May of this year during a national Iron Man competition that she first felt something was wrong with her spine. “I’d just finished a 180km ride and felt excruciating back pain when I was running the marathon at the end,” she recalls. “I couldn’t work out why it hurt so much, but I just kept telling myself to push through it, to stop whinging. “It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realised there was probably something wrong.” When a doctor informed her that this type of cancer, which is much slower forming than breast cancer, had been found in her bones, Deb’s hope never faltered; she wouldn’t let it. “I never have any doubt that I’m going to beat it, never,” she says. “You hear so many stories of people who’ve beaten cancer in their bones or lungs, and it just inspires me to beat it.” Deb undergoes treatment at a Melbourne hospital every three weeks, where she receives an immune-strengthening medication named Herceptin via a drip. Until there are further advances in cancer treatment, regular trips to the hospital will remain the norm for Deb, and she says it won’t stop her from living life to its fullest. “I know I have cancer and therefore live my life,” she muses.

Sisters united

AROUND 13,500 Australian women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. The statistics are staggering: one in eight women will be diagnosed with the disease before they reach 85. Something Deb soon learned when cancer was discovered in her breast tissue in 2003 was that she wasn’t alone. In fact, there were a lot more local women in the same boat than she could have ever imagined. She stays in close contact with those she met during her breast cancer journey, and they form an important part of her life and support circle. One of them, Lorna Donohue, aged 85, was only recently given the all-clear after fighting the disease for 17 years. “When I was 68 I went to get a mammogram with two others and was the only one to receive a letter back!” Lorna recalls. “But we women are united in what we have been through.” Deb’s friends, several of whom are still counting down to five years after diagnosis when the risk of relapse is low, have formed an unspoken bond and continue to take part in breast cancer awareness activities whenever possible. They’re part of what Deb describes as “a fantastic network of friends”. “There’s also my triathlon community, surfing community and my party community,” she says with a laugh. And her two greatest supporters reside under her roof. “My twin 13 year-old boys, Ben and Dylan… they’re very proud of me,” she said. Hoping to resume her role as a paramedic educator with Ambulance Victoria in the near future, Deb has already booked herself in for next national Ironman Australia competition in May. And this week she’s heading off to Western Australia with friend Rick Oldham for a 1000km bike ride from Esperance to Perth to raise money for Teen Challenge, an initiative that supports teens affected by drugs. To show your support for Deb and the ride, log on to www.tdf1000.org