UFOs, checking under the hood and finding the funny in gynae cancer – comedian Kehau Jackson shares her story on beating endometrial cancer.
It was the year 2000. The Olympics were heading to Sydney and Y2K was a genuine fear but the millennium was only the beginning of changes for Hawaiian comedian, Kehau Jackson.
“I’d been through a lot in the previous years with domestic violence and caring for my unwell parents,” Kehau said.
“On my 43rd birthday I spotted an open mic night ad in the newspaper and off I went! It was the start of developing this new, happy life.”
Kehau was not surprised when her body also started changing, with irregular periods hinting menopause could be approaching.
“I thought it’s probably normal but let a professional tell you that and not ‘Doctor Google’ or the other old bats you talk with,” she joked.
“My gynecologist agreed it was probably perimenopause but was still thorough; took some tests and checked under the hood.
“You’re flabby, you’re hairy, you’re not your best – the hard part is getting over that and being able to laugh about it!”
Kehau’s trademark sense of humour would become crucial.
“She called the next day and said ‘it’s not good, I need to see you in person’. You immediately think the worst, the ‘Big C’.
“I went into my boss with the ‘I’m going to die’ comedy and managed to drive to the doctor without crashing!”
All results including a pap smear were normal but Kehau’s gynecologist had taken just one more test…it found endometrial cancer.
“I’m convinced that having a female doctor meant she didn’t write it off as menopause and went the extra mile. She saved my life.”
Diagnosis has increased by 55 per cent over the last 10 years for endometrial or ‘uterine’ cancer, one of seven gynecological cancers.
“It’s not until they start slicing and dicing that you’ll find out how bad the cancer is. Now I know why there’s tissues on every surgeon’s desk because you immediately think the worst,” Kehau said.
The head surgeon offered solid advice alongside the box of tissues.
“He said just do one thing at a time, then hear the recommendation for what’s next because it’s not going to get better by freaking out.
“Luckily, the cancer hadn’t penetrated more than half way into my uterine walls, so I had what my friends call the ‘UFO operation’ – removing the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.”
Kehau’s son and a dear friend, Kenui, joined her for a serious discussion on surgery and recovery, when the doctor whipped out an image of Kehau’s uterus.
“Kenui turned to me and said, ‘Sis, do you want a picture to commemorate what you’re losing?’.
“We were in hysterics as the surgeon autographed my scan and she said, ‘You’ll be fine if you’re always laughing like this!’”
The autographed image hung in Kenui’s loungeroom for years.
“Anything gynecological can be difficult and embarrassment is a big factor, especially for older women,” Kehau said. “Humour can help you open up.”
“We’re not feeling like Elle Macpherson when we’re at the doctor going ‘hello, let me take my pants off for you!
“You’re hanging out of the paper thing, legs up in stirrups with a doctor asking, ‘how’s the kids?’. Talking and laughing about these awkward moments takes the sting out of it.”
Kehau is determined to see statistics improve for gynecological cancer and encourage women to learn about their bodies.
“The beauty of comedy is it can be a real weapon and can educate people by making it funny,” Kehau said.
“You need to trust yourself, listen to your body and seek help when needed. If I’d waited even a couple of months, I might not have been here today.”
Kehau also volunteers at Adelaide’s Gynae Cancer Gala to support cancer research.
“There’s a life to look forward to and you have to do what you can to meet the obligation of living that life,” she said.
“When I was diagnosed, I had just started being a comic and was finally doing something I loved.
“Two decades later, I’m still making a living talking about my vagina.”
After all, laughter is the best medicine but combined with research, it creates hope.