Being told you have cancer can quickly become one of the most confronting moments in your life. But what is it really like when your doctor delivers the news?
We spoke to two different women about their experience with cancer, including how they dealt with it, and the little things that made their fight more bearable.
Despite each individual’s experience with cancer being unique, both Vera and Robyn know first-hand how the funds raised by Dry July go a long way to help those on their cancer journey, with the funds raised each year going towards cancer support organisations across Australia.
Here’s what Vera and Robyn had to say:
Vera na Ranong.
Vera na Ranong was 34-years-old when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in November, 2016. This went on to become a five month battle, which she has since successfully recovered from. Vera got to experience first-hand the small things, which can make the biggest impact to a cancer patient’s life during treatment.
Going through cancer is a stressful time and some of the places you go in the lead up to treatment can be incredibly sterile. The cancer ward at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne was pretty new and it has just been refurbished. It was quite a welcoming environment. There are artificial flowers and a range of magazines, which are just in the reception area, then the actual ward itself is lovely...for a hospital.
Most of the areas that you’re in within the ward, you don’t find yourself staring at other people and you’re not staring at a wall, there’s light and flowers. For me this general environment was a really important aspect of my personal treatment. Even at Christmas they had beautiful decorations, vibrant purple and white, much better than the ones you’d have at home.Advertisement
When I started treatment I expected to lose my hair but I actually didn’t. I did cut my hair and bought a wig from the grant that I received for the wig, which was very generous. I think the other thing with being sick is that there is a financial aspect, and even though I was going through a public system, I had to stop working. It was stressful so a small donation like this was very generous.
I'm so delighted that last year's Dry July fundraising allowed the hospital to purchase a scalp cooling cap which helps reduce the risk of hair loss during chemotherapy. It was the first public hospital to do so and it means that less women need wigs. It may be a bit vain but the idea of losing your hair is pretty distressing. I was lucky not to completely lose mine but a lot of it came out - I literally used to use a dust buster after every shower.
I also went to one of the Look Good Feel Better workshops and I registered for one at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre. The idea of the workshops is that if you look better, you’ll feel better. I think it’s one thing being sick, but another to look sick and be easily identified as having cancer and part of the workshop is to help combat this, plus just feel better about yourself.
They teach you really practical things that help you whilst you go through treatment like how to style with hats, scarves and hair as well, which is really nice. They also teach you things like what to do if you lose your eyebrows and how to get the right shape for example. It’s very practical advice for you whilst you’re going through cancer treatment and it’s all run by volunteers.
When I started to fundraise for Dry July, I found out they funded a range of things that aren’t necessary for treatment but made a world of difference when you are going through an incredibly emotional time. For example a big comfy chair isn’t necessary for your treatment but it makes it much more comfortable if you’re in there for a long time. You can actually be in the hospital for quite a lot of time, most times I would be in at 9am and leave around 2pm so it’s the little things that definitely add up.
Robyn’s sister Bonnie was just 30-years-old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the start of a nine year battle with cancer. Robyn has just undergone a preventative double mastectomy, so understands clearly the struggle women recovering in hospital go through.
Bonnie’s experience was one that sadly many Australian women go through. Bonnie was quiet and kept to herself even before her cancer diagnosis, so it was difficult to know exactly what we should be doing to make her experience easier. I remember knowing that she was keeping a lot of things to herself, as she had always done.
In late 2015, Bonnie was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia. At the time, the doctors told her she only had three months left to live. They completed a stem cell transplant from our sister which was successful and helped her fight back. I know that this period was one of the most isolating and lonely periods for her, and one of the hardest for us to help her. The sense of helplessness that comes with being close to someone struggling with cancer can be overwhelming, but I think it’s so important that you don’t get discouraged and give up.
After Bonnie’s diagnosis, I turned to research and tried to find out everything I could about things that would make Bonnie’s life easier – transport for when she couldn’t drive, any support groups that were available and tried to help understand everything the doctor was telling her. Doctors would often tell her things about her health but it’s very hard to take everything in at once and properly understand it. I tried to educate myself so that I could in turn help her and explain anything she was confused by.
Small things do make a big impact. It meant the world to Bonnie knowing that her family was there if she ever wanted to talk. Her body clock was thrown out of whack from treatment and she would often stay awake for half the night, so knowing she could turn to us at any time was deeply comforting. Spending time with us was also great at lifting her spirits. She was wonderful with my boys when we saw her and she had a friend who with a little boy who was like a nephew to her as well. Being around the children and being able to get out of the house on her good days was very positive for her.
Bonnie’s battle with cancer sadly ended, three weeks after being diagnosed with a new tumour on her back. She fought as hard as she could, but Bonnie sadly passed away in April last year. I’ve thought about her so much since then, and even more since I got the news I had been dreading at the end of last year.
Four months after Bonnie’s passing, I discovered a lump in my breast. We monitored the lump and eventually I had a preventative double mastectomy. After it was removed I found out it was benign. Despite having amazing friends and family around me there have been moments of intense loneliness, where I feel so stuck in my own head. It’s astounding how isolated you can feel despite knowing so many people have your back. I’ve realised that experiences like mine and Bonnie’s are ultimately ones people have to go through alone, and spend a lot of time reflecting on.
The thing that has made this experience easier for me has been speaking out and sharing mine and Bonnie’s stories. I’ve had people contact me from years ago who are going through similar situations and we’ve then been able to swap advice and comfort each. There is nothing like being able to talk to someone who truly understands what you’re going through – and this is something I wish for anyone touched by cancer.
With Dry July kicking off at the weekend, we’re all preparing ourselves to lock the wine away (wish us all luck!). We all love that a month off alcohol not only benefits our wallets, but also has great health benefits, such as sleeping better, having more energy and of course, no hangovers.
What many of us don’t realise, is that this July alone over 11,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer. The money raised is used to improve patient comfort, with the small things that make a BIG difference like wifi in waiting rooms, wig libraries, patient transport, and much more.
To help fund cancer support organisations across Australia, register for Dry July here.