Anna Bligh: Cancer knocked me for six

Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Anna Bligh: Cancer knocked me for six
Anna Bligh. © The Australian Women's Weekly. Not for republication. Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan.

Former Queensland premier Anna Bligh had her whole head shaved while undergoing treatment for cancer, and says the process left her feeling "like an egghead, but very loved".

In an exclusive interview to celebrate the 80th birthday of The Australian Women's Weekly, Ms Bligh says that being diagnosed with cancer "was not something I took in my stride. I was knocked for six".

"At the time of my diagnosis, I was 52 years old. I felt like I was in the prime of my life. So it was absolutely terrifying. I wouldn't want anyone to think I shrugged it off and thought, okay, no problem, I'll beat this."

She adds: "Hearing that I would soon be bald was almost as hard to hear as my diagnosis. No woman gives up her hair and all that goes with it — the styling, the colouring, the 'dos — which ease or nonchalance."

The Weekly wanted to include Anna in the 80th birthday celebrations not because she was fighting cancer but because of her considerable achievements in public life. Still, the timing meant it she would have to be photographed in the midst of treatment.

"My hair was coming out in chunks before I decided that I had to have it shaved off," she says.

Her hairdresser offered to open his salon after hours, so he could run the electric clippers over her skull in the company of her husband, some good friends and a bottle of champagne.

"I was hoping for something close to Sinead O'Connor, or Sigourney Weaver's character in Alien 3, both of whom made bald look sexy," Anna says of the experience. Instead, she says, she left "looking like an egghead but feeling very loved".

Anna became Queensland's first female premier, and in 2009, she became the first woman elected to the office of premier in any Australian state in her own right.

Her leadership qualities were severely tested during the great floods of January 2011. As Premier, it fell to Anna to help plan the response and, at the height of the crisis, she delivered a magnificent speech — and yet, for a moment, Anna thought she might have blown it.

"I wanted to show that I was feeling strong," she tells The Weekly, "and that I was up to the task, that I was feeling confident and we were rock solid, so when my voice cracked and got wobbly, I was very worried that I had failed in the task.

"It was only later, when people began telling me that I wasn't the only one crying that I knew that people were responding."

Anna recently moved to NSW, after her husband, Greg Withers, landed a good, public service job, saying it was her turn to support him in his career.

For the full interview with Anna Bligh, see the historic 80th birthday anniversary edition of the Weekly, out on September 26.

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