How life can change in a minute or less

Margaret Keane

Margaret Keane

Who am I five years on from being diagnosed with a brain tumour, asks Good Samaritan Sister Margaret Keane. I am not the same. And yet, in essence, I am the same.

BY Margaret Keane SGS*

“We are what we are, and you are what you are, love us if you can.” It was this line from Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Mangroves”, which prompted a flood of thoughts and feelings within me, including the question: who am I five years on from being diagnosed with a brain tumour?

I am not the same. And yet, in essence, I am the same.

Let me take you back to a Saturday in mid-November 2010 when my life was thrown into chaos.

It was a glorious day in the Blue Mountains town of Lawson where I and many others rejoiced with a young woman as she made her first profession as a Good Samaritan Sister.

After arriving home in Sydney, full of new inspiration for our way of life, a few of my Good Sam Sisters and I enjoyed a bike ride for an hour or so.

Dinner over, we were still conversing about our future as a religious order of women in the Church. If you want to end a conversation don’t do the following!

Without any warning I had a major seizure which left me unconscious. “Don’t worry, we’ve got you. We think you’ve had a stroke,” were the last words I heard.

My life changed in a minute.

The next morning a doctor came by and said simply, “We’ve done scans and you have a brain tumour”. Just like that.

So what changed?

I call them losses.

There was (is) loss of independence, a quality I highly valued.

There was an end to my active ministry at our spirituality centre in Sydney. At the time, I clearly recall asking the doctor if he thought two weeks off ministry was likely. He didn’t reply. Perhaps he wondered about my strange sense of humour!

Bike riding in the dawn and in sunshine at the beautiful wetlands around Olympic Park on the weekends ceased.

Walking the dog became a memory. It had been a time of talking to strangers and sharing snippets of their lives. Precious moments.

My mobility and speech continues to be affected, so I require constant physiotherapy and practice.

My fears continue to challenge me. I have fears of falling, of being unable to participate in conversation, and I’m always wondering about access to buildings. Will there be toilet facilities for people like me with a disability?

I know that God is a loving God. In spite of this, I have moments of doubt.

So what do I retain as the years pass?

I thank God for my memory and very acute hearing. Do not speak about me within a few metres of my presence!

I have a deep empathy for those who are discriminated against on a daily basis.

Friends from school days – both as a child and as a teacher – and friends from the time I entered the convent, have remained faithful, loyal and ever-willing to be of service to me.

As what should be part of the life of any religious community, I have needed and received strong spiritual support. Our common prayer has been, at times, filled with tears as we’ve shared what touched us in Scripture and the Psalms.

Before retiring at night, as a community we ask each other to name three things for which we are grateful from the day. This attitude of gratefulness has been a real gift on which to hold.

I am able to speak to many people on their birthdays – a small ministry.

My large and growing family is a constant. Living in Melbourne allows for visits that were not easy in Sydney. It is an awesome experience to grow closer to family as we all grow older.

I am well cared for by skilled and loving people.

I have retained my sense of humour.

I still get great pleasure from beautiful blossoms, huge ocean waves, night skies and anything of God’s creation.

Belonging to the Good Samaritan Sisters, with our Benedictine spirituality, does not change. Being neighbour to those with whom I live is always a goal, and here where I live, there are many opportunities for hospitality.

Technology has been such an amazing advantage at the same as it is a challenge. I was a reluctant starter, finding that computers have minds of their own. But now I’m an avid learner; I have conquered my fears and befriended my iPad.

Do you know how valuable it is to access daily Scripture readings and books in audio format when your eye sight is limited?

These losses and gains remind me of a story. A grandfather told his young grandson: “We have inside us two wild wolves fighting to be our friend. One wolf fed on envy, greed, anger, injustice and lies; the other on kindness, love, forgiveness and fair play”. The boy asked: “And who wins?” “The one we feed,” replied the grandfather.

And so, let me return to that line from Mary Oliver’s poem and take some poetic license: I am what I am, you are what you are. Love me if you can. Being different is just that; it’s not a barrier to love, but a reminder to love more – to be the second wolf.

“How long, O Lord, how long?”

* Good Samaritan Sister Margaret Keane worked for many years as an educator in secondary schools in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. Now retired, she lives in Melbourne.

Download a printer-friendly version (PDF 163KB)

The Good Oil, September 15, 2015. If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.

23 Responses to “How life can change in a minute or less”

  1. Brigitte Ciurleo says:

    Marg, you continue to amaze me! I truly admire your resilience. In spite of everything you have suffered, you still make time to share your talents with others – eg – running Ipad sessions for your colleagues, teaching English to visiting novitiates, writing film reviews – to name but a few. Thank you for sharing your article with us. Enjoy Christmas with your family and we will see you in the new year.

  2. Anna Smit says:

    Hi Sr Marg. I must say for what you have been through the last few years you are looking really good. I have memories of St Monica’s days in Epping Victoria and of course the convent and the many cups of teas I have had with yourself so many other Good Sams. Sending you my love Anna xx

  3. Rose says:

    Hello, I read this article and the ensuing comments and think: so much goodness from one person.
    And realise, even doctors, physio, hospital staff would see or have seen your goodness along the way.

  4. Ameria Etuare says:

    Mauri Marg. Thank you for sharing your deep journey. Your story has inspired me to rely and trust in God alone, especially in times of frustration, and failure. I was very honored to witness your spiritual journey when I was with your community. Also I want to wish you God’s blessings on your birthday last month. Lastly, I want to thank you Marg for who you were to me when I stayed with you. Keep up the good health and determination in life.

  5. Loretto Madden says:

    Good Luck Margaret and keep up your Koroit Irish spirit

  6. Gerri Boylan says:

    Thank you, Marg. What a ministry you are involved in now!
    Your whole person is a sound witness of acceptance and gratitude.

  7. Colleen leonard says:

    Dearest Margaret thank you for your beautiful sharing. What an inspiration you are to all of us. Your deep spirituality shone through your story. Holding you in love and prayer. Love and abundant blessings, Colleenx

  8. Fiona Borland says:

    Thank you for that wonderful sharing Marg. I found it quite heart opening. Blessings to you and the beautiful work you continue to do, just be being you. Much love, Fiona

  9. Rhonda MacInnes says:

    Margaret, your article is such a gift to me too, as my sister Geri has had recent surgery and subsequent treatment for a serious brain tumour. Our family is reeling and I am amazed at how many people I am hearing of who are travelling this strange and uncertain journey. My prayer for her and others is for the gift of acceptance and serenity and I thank you for your inspiration at this difficult time.

  10. loretto says:

    Good luck Margaret keep up that Koroit Irish spirit

  11. Helen Smith says:

    As always, you have a story to tell and share. As always I am given pause to stop and reflect, remember and consider. As always, I am reminded why you have, for so many years, been my litmus test on what it means to lead and be. Thank you. I wish you a very happy birthday for the 11th and hope to see you again soon.

  12. John & Irene Wilson says:

    Hi Marg, Absolutely wonderful to read your self-story and to see that your are fighting on. We often think of you and have wondered about annoying you in person with a visit to you. After the many years on the Mater Christie board together we knew that we could never forget Margaret Keane – ever. Blessings to you as you continue and continue. Your ex-students Pippa & Angela are doing very well because of Mater Christie. Lots of love, John & Irene

  13. Marie Casamento says:

    Marg thanks for having the courage to share your journey forward after surgery’. You are both resilient and tenacious and I admire your transparency. Marg I just love receiving your birthday greetings. Thank you, Marie

  14. Mary & Marie says:

    Marg, your article was an inspiration to us – thank you! Your deep faith and patience in your present situation are an example to all. Thank you, too, for the birthday greetings which are a delight to receive. Much love,
    Mary and Marie

  15. Garry says:

    Thank you Marg for an inspirational account of your recent journey into mystery. Your sharing is important for fellow suffers and carers alike.
    My wife Ann had a larger brain tumour (cancerous) removed just 12 months ago. She has been receiving post -op treatment regularly since then which involves chemo and radium and the “wonder drug” avastin. Her journey bears many of the hallmarks of your own,
    Ann felt her loss of independence mostly when she was no longer allowed to drive her car. Being a passenger all the time is not easy! It is a humbling experience. Ann also experiences the fears of not being able to communicate adequately as her memory of words has been significantly affected, as has her hearing. This can lead to a lessening of meaningful relationships, even with some of her closet friends. Not being able to read to her little grandchildren has been a particular cross for her to bear. Naturally her energy levels are depleted, and she finds it difficult to complete any usual task or chore.
    On the positive side, Ann has the attitude of gratitude! Like you and your community, we can review the day and see all the wonderful gifts that came her way— gifts we once perhaps never noticed.
    We haven’t begun to ask “how long Lord?” yet. We just try to make the most of each day, and keep the focus on hope. As someone once said” You can’t look at the stars if you are always digging potatoes”. As the Scriptures put it: “Do not disappoint us in our hope; all honour to God the giver of life”
    Thanks again, Marg.

  16. Carmel Madden says:

    All the best. Thanks for your thoughtful article .

  17. Rita says:

    You are an inspiration to all and precious to us. We can only wonder at the journey you have come through and, despite what it entailed, you can look both back to it and forward to life as it is with such faith and serenity.
    Thank you.

  18. michelle says:

    Marg what a marvellous article, straight from the heart!
    Oh how we do love you, as you are and for the inspiration you give us daily in the way you face each day, thank God you moved to Victoria! michelle

  19. Margaret Speechley says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story Margaret – I am greatly moved by your strength and courage. Yours is a story of acceptance, love and faith. May God continue to shower upon you blessing each day.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you.
    Margaret Speechley x

  20. Jane Marshall says:

    Margaret, as I woke this morning I was constantly thinking of a very special friend of mine who is to undergo surgery for a Brain Tumour today.
    I was about to spend time in prayer, however, before I opened ‘Good Oil’
    and he was your article. This was a true gift for me today, as I hold on to hope for my friend. Your article speaks so beautifully about the essence of life, and you are living it with such serenity and grace. Thankyou

  21. Moya Weissenfeld says:

    Thank-you Marg for you deep sharing. Love Moya

  22. Veronica McCluskie says:

    Thanks Margaret for sharing your story with us You are an inspiration to me It is so true about the wolves!!! Lots of love from Kiribati where I am at present.

  23. Patricia Purcell says:


    It is wonderful to hear from you. Have thought of you often and asked your various friends how you are progressing. I missed your wisdom and knowledge while I was a Member and you were indisposed.

    Look forward to hearing more news of your journey in the months and years to come.

Leave a Comment

The aim of The Good Oil's comment section is to encourage respectful conversation and dialogue. When posting your comment please:

  • be brief (no more than 120 words) and keep on topic;
  • be respectful of others whether you agree with their opinion or not;
  • be careful about posting your personal information online.

Our comment section is moderated. Your name and email are required for identification purposes. Your email will not be published. We reserve the right to not publish comments.