ANNA Roussos was five months pregnant with her third child when she found out she had leukaemia.
Doctors told her she might only have two months to live. Her only chance of survival was to terminate her pregnancy.
So she made the impossible choice, and gave birth to her stillborn daughter, Mila.
Now, two years later, Anna, 35, wears a locket a on a bracelet carrying some of Mila’s ashes, and uses her memory as an inspiration to help others fight cancer.
“Mila was my angel, she was trying to protect me, she saved me,” Anna said. “That’s how I have made peace with her.
“My initial aim was Mila’s legacy but now it’s about making a difference.”
After the tragedy of Mila’s birth, doctors told Anna she had a 30 per cent chance of getting through the next five years.
These odds improved immeasurably after a bone-marrow transplant from her brother Lukasz and bouts of chemotherapy.
But what followed was six months in the isolation wing of the old Royal Adelaide Hospital, during which she was not even able to hug her two other children, Sebastian, then 15 months, and Ollie, 6.
“Your immune system is down, infection can kill so I was isolated in the RAH,” she said. Husband George was her constant companion in hospital.
“It impacted on my life but what about the mums who didn’t make it? There were lots of them there. I feel a big need to pay it forward, I am living for Mila.”
Four months after getting out of hospital, she completed the 12km City-Bay fun run. Four months after that, she returned to work.
Now, she is “coming up to a 50 per cent chance of survival” and is heading a team of 15 SA property industry diehards tackling a two-day 76km trek along the Heysen Trail in the Barossa to raise money for bowel cancer research next weekend.
Her ‘Happy Seekers’ team in the Jodi Lee Foundation JFL Trek has raised $42,000 already, unsurprising given her mission, which is “paying it forward”.
“I don’t like to think having cancer stops me,” she said. “The fear of it coming back can scare you because you know what you are up for.
“I know it sounds odd but I feel like the universe talks to me, I need to do something.
“I wanted to create a foundation where Mila is the hub of it.”
Since her diagnosis, Anna has made four-figure cash donations to Canteen and Lifeline. Her experience was also the catalyst for her to establish her own company, Anna Roussos Recruitment (ARR), after 15 years in the construction recruitment industry.
“For every placement I make I have a charity kitty, and give $250. This is why I started the business.”
Her goal, she says, is to contribute widely, to help people regardless. ARR has invested $8000 to make her Heysen Trail dash happen.
Timing of next weekend’s trek is particularly poignant. The trek starts on Friday, the anniversary of Anna’s bone marrow operation. Saturday would have been Mila’s second birthday, had she been born at full term.
The daughter of Polish parents who fled from communism in the early 1980s to a refugee camp in Austria, the family moved to Australia when she was five.
A talented tennis player, Anna toured Europe in her late teens, trying to crack it as a professional, before returning to Australia and embarking on a career in construction recruitment.
Adelaide real estate impresario Phil Harris was a tennis contemporary.
“She has always been an incredibly popular person both on court and in her professional background,” he said.
Anna said she “loved life”, even though she was now 35 and going through menopause.
“I don’t know what the future holds for me.”
A little like today, Mother’s Day.
“I have been a bit slack this week, nothing has been organised. We are going out to the woods a picnic, we’ll pick pine mushrooms.”
The downtime is well-earned. Remember, four months after coming out of hospital, she ran City to Bay. Just four months.
“I can do this” she said to herself then, “I am Anna Roussos.” And this weekend’s Barossa trek? Much the same.
“I just want to finish the trail.”
To donate, visit the Jodi Lee Foundation site.