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Laura and her father Mark hold a photo of Anni, who died in 2007 following a battle with breast cancer.

Death sentence for one, life for another

AT ONE point in the last week of Anni Wood's life, as she faded in and out of consciousness, she told her husband Mark he needed to eventually move on from her and find new love.

"That was actually quite a difficult moment," Mark said.

"At the time I just said 'what are you talking about? You're not going anywhere!'"

In December 2007, at age 50, Anni took her last breath and Mark and his daughter Laura began to grieve in ways that would change for both of them over the next nine years.

"It's got harder for Laura in some ways as she got older. She was 12 when Anni died," Mark said.

 

Laura Wood with her mum Anni Wood. Anni died in 2007 following a battle with breast cancer.
Laura Wood with her mum Anni Wood. Anni died in 2007 following a battle with breast cancer.

Mark and Anni met in the south of France in 1979 and dated throughout their university years before going their separate ways, but they kept in touch. A meeting in London in 1985, though, rekindled their relationship and they married and moved to Australia in 1991.

Anni was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and when it was confirmed in 2005 that she had secondary cancer, Mark stopped work and became her full-time carer.

After Anni died, Mark said, Laura continued to reflect her mother's traits.

"She's like her mum in a lot of ways, all the good ways," Mark said. "Anni was very outgoing, a genuine listener, which a lot of people aren't, and people were drawn to her happy personality and her infectious love for fun."

Laura also followed in her mother's footsteps on to the stage, as a professional dancer. Mark was particularly proud of her performances as part of the Sydney Dance Company, in the concert hall at the Sydney Opera House, in April last year. She was one of only six dancers on stage, accompanied by more than 100 musicians from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

"It's really hard, sometimes, watching her, thinking about how much Anni would have loved to see her as a professional dancer," Mark said.

 

Laura Wood takes the stage, following in her mother Anni's footsteps.
Laura Wood takes the stage, following in her mother Anni's footsteps.

Laura, now 21, currently dances on cruise ships, as did her mum as a young woman.

Mark had a message for women of all ages in encouraging regular self-checks for signs of breast cancer.

"Please look after yourself, not for yourself but for everyone who loves you... If Anni was diagnosed only two months earlier she would still be with us," he said.

"She would still have breast cancer, but she would still be with us. Her journey would have been a lot easier. There are a couple of old wive's tales. One is that if no one in the family had breast cancer, you are safe. The truth is that in nine out of 10 new cases there is no known family link, so that is one of the myths.

"The other one is age, 'I'm too young to worry about this', but it's affecting young woman, even in their teens. And don't forget, more than 100 men a year are diagnosed with the disease. A monthly self-check is really easy.

"Anni had a death sentence, but Laura has a life sentence without her mum. Please don't let this happen to your family."

 

Anni and Mark Wood with their daughter Laura.
Anni and Mark Wood with their daughter Laura.

And while Mark said anniversary days, Anni's birthday date and other special days for the family continued to be difficult, he had also found new love and was engaged in May this year.

He met his wife-to-be Maria Wilton, who was an honorary director of the National Breast Cancer Foundation (of which Mark and Laura are also heavily involved as ambassadors), when he spoke at a breakfast at Flemington Racecourse in October, 2014.

"(Romance) was the last thing that has ever been on my mind. I presumed my relationship days were over, and I was fine with that," Mark said. "This took me by complete surprise, but I'm very lucky!"