My name is Sarah Mamalai. I’m a 36-year-old mother of two young boys who was happily going along living my life until May of 2007 when I was diagnosed with an incurable and very aggressive cancer of the brain (Grade 4 GBM and P-NET within).
Our life since then has been like riding the world’s biggest roller-coaster. Incredibly among the lows there have been some amazing highs, the biggest of which was meeting Dr Charlie Teo. He is the neurosurgeon who performed the brave and brilliant surgery that saved my life and extended the time I have to share with my friends and family. After having two lots of major brain surgery, extensive radiotherapy and chemotherapy, one of my doctors suggested that I should set some goals. I felt I needed an extreme challenge to take my mind off the cancer so decided I would walk the Kokoda Track along with friends and family. I contacted my dear friend from Niugini Adventure Tours Ken Selu and asked for his help to achieve this seemingly impossible goal. At that point I had barely even been bush walking so this was a very challenging task! After 5 months of training, I completed the trek in 8 days in May of 2008, one year after diagnosis. What an amazing trip and what amazing people we had along with us. When people ask me how it was I say incredible – incredibly hard, incredibly rewarding and incredibly beautiful. I think the hardest day for me was day 1 when I realised exactly how tough it was going to be and the fear that I wouldn’t be able to complete the trek on my own two-feet. (I have serious balance problems and was over-compensating for my weaker left side by leaning like a banana on my right walking stick. The porters said they wanted to carry me down the mountain. I burst into tears as I was determined not to be carried and they relented 🙂 Ken replaced my sticks with two amazing porters – one on each hand and the rest is history! My favourite day was the last day – the walk into Kokoda Station in the dark with all of my Kokoda 08 team, being covered with frangipanis being thrown at us by the hiding villagers, fireflies in the night sky and to mark my entry into Kokoda; an arch of walking sticks – AND it was the only truly FLAT bit of the whole walk!!! I could never have done it without Ken’s help. He also helped me raise $50,000 in sponsorship for the Cure for Life Foundation, a cause very close to my heart. The Cure for Life foundation was established by my neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo to help fund advancements in the treatment of brain cancers like mine, hopefully leading to a cure someday.