Turning back the pages

12 March 2020
Written by Tracey Laity, Marketing Coordinator

We catch up for a cuppa with Clarisse Jennings, who underwent a radical mastectomy in 1993, and was instrumental in setting up one of Breast Cancer Care WA’s first support groups as well as its library collection.

In retrospect, it was a vigilant GP who spotted something wrong during a regular health exam, a slight dimpling of the breast tissue, which had escaped Clarisse’s notice that changed everything. Within days, Clarisse found herself undergoing a radical mastectomy that ended up saving her life.

And it while she was browsing the racks at La Femme boutique on Queen Street, Perth, for a mastectomy bra that she came to know the shop owner, Ros Worthington, who at that time was also heading up a fledgling community group known as the Breast Cancer Foundation of WA, now Breast Cancer Care WA.

“We just kind of gravitated towards each other,” said Clarisse, who had been a librarian at Marmion Primary School for many years. “I was lucky to have the support of family and friends at that time, but Ros and I know that there were many women who were struggling on their own.

So along with Pat Manners, we set up a support group at the Granny Spiers Community Centre, in Heathridge, and when that took off, we left it in good hands, and Ros asked me to set up a library. This was about five years later.”

At a time when Wikipedia was still in its infancy and Amazon had not become part of the lexicon, people relied on local libraries and books for information, said Clarisse. She found herself trawling through bookshops in Perth and Fremantle to find suitable resources, and then introduced a cataloguing system so they could be loaned out to clients. The card system still exists in our Cottesloe offices but reading habits have changed and most people prefer to access their information online, Clarisse said.

Clarisse remained an avid supporter of Breast Cancer Care WA; helping to sort out hundreds of donated bras on her patio to be dyed purple ahead of Purple Bra Day; shaking tins on the actual day; leafletting; and volunteering at many Long Table Lunches; and even modelling and speaking at community fund-raisers.

“It’s amazing to think Breast Care Care WA has been around for 20 years now,” Clarisse said. “Back when I had breast cancer, it was hard to get information about anything, but there is so much out there for people now. The thing is people still need help trying to figure out what is good information and so when I meet someone who is touched by breast cancer, I still direct them to Breast Cancer Care WA. We’ve still got good resources in our library.”