When Lorraine Downes was in New York after winning the Miss Universe title in 1983, her mother Glad didn’t have any sleepless nights.
“I never worried about her once. I knew she was in good hands and that she was a good, sensible girl,” says Glad.
“I remember going to Cape Reinga and seeing the sign pointing to New York. I touched it and said out loud, ‘Hi, Lorraine.’ Golly, I missed her terribly.”
Lorraine and her mum have always been very close, forming a tight-knit family with Lorraine’s sisters Sue, Jenny and Carolyn.
Glad is an active grandmother, picking up her grandchildren from school and taking them swimming or dancing. But she says she has never felt closer to her daughters than she does now.
In January 2012, she was told that she had a lump the size of a golf ball in her breast that would have to be removed.
“You stop having mammograms at 69, and I am nearly 77, so wasn’t being checked and really didn’t think it was a concern any more. Then I read an article about an older woman who had breast cancer and thought I should take this lump to the doctor.”
The first test result came back negative just before Christmas 2011. “We were all jumping for joy at Christmas, so happy that Mum was okay,” says Lorraine.
But a follow-up appointment delivered a different diagnosis. Glad needed a mastectomy of one breast, and opted for two.
“I didn’t want to be lopsided,” she says. But what happened to the Downes family through the eight months of Glad’s chemotherapy was something magical.
They pulled together and found a closeness they had never experienced before.
“The beauty of having four daughters is that I was never alone,” says Glad, who always had one of her children sitting with her during long hours of treatment.
“We talked,” says Lorraine. “We had more time together, one-on-one, driving and sitting at appointments. “Mum knows that we all lead very busy lives and she’s never been one of those mothers who complains if you forget to call. But the good side of a serious illness like this is that it does make everyone go, ‘Wow, time is precious.’”
“That’s the beauty of texting and the communication we have now – we could keep in touch and stay organised,” says Lorraine.
But it was another member of her family who really helped Glad through the treatment.
Seven-year-old Claudia Little, the daughter of Lorraine’s sister Carolyn, was a Child Cancer Foundation ambassador in 2010 and finished her treatment for Wilms’ Tumour (cancer of the kidneys) just as her grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer
“After watching Claudia being so brave, I thought my cancer was nothing compared to hers,” says Glad.
“When I felt awful I would think, ‘If Claudia can get through this, then I can get through it.’”
“Mum never complained,” says Lorraine. “There was not one single ‘poor me’ moment. And through it all she kept her sense of humour and would talk to anyone about anything. She was quite remarkable.”
Lorraine says the family have a big get-together planned for Mother’s Day at her sister Jenny’s house, and it will be a chance for all of them to show Glad how much she means to them.
Lorraine says she and her sisters were lucky to have Glad’s support as they grew up. “Mum is, and always will be, my biggest fan,” says Lorraine. “You could go out and do anything, knowing that Mum would be there 100% for you.”
Lorraine says her parents’ happy marriage was a big influence on her as a child. Glad married Lloyd Downes at 18, was pregnant at 19, and enjoyed many happy years with Lloyd until he died of a heart attack 25 years ago, aged 54.
“They had this real love and we grew up around that,” says Lorraine.
“Dad was a very calming influence in our house of four girls, plus Mum, which makes five females to cope with.”
After Glad’s treatment, she had an operation which left her with an infection, and she is just getting back enough energy to return to her beloved garden, which she has had for 35 years.
“I was a shorthand typist before I got married and would have liked to have taken that further, but I made my girls my career,” says Glad.
“As long as they’re happy and my grandchildren are happy, then I’m very happy with my life.”
• Hair & Make-Up: Maša Milnovic • Styling: Sonia Greenslade