Lisa is a 51-year-old mum, who runs a theatre company in Ballarat. In September 2022, she was diagnosed with gastro-oesophageal junction cancer – cancer at the base of her oesophagus where it meets her stomach.
Lisa’s cancer journey demonstrates the importance of advocating for your own health, asking questions and gathering second opinions. In January 2022, Lisa was experiencing trouble swallowing. As a relatively young, active woman, Lisa’s GP put her symptoms down to reflux, and a follow-up CT scan did not reveal anything. However, her symptoms persisted and Lisa found a new GP who was significantly worried. She was referred to a surgeon in early May, who also agreed that her symptoms needed to be addressed as soon as possible.
By July, Lisa could not swallow anything except liquids.
In August, Lisa presented to an Emergency Department where they discovered the tumour. She had a stent placed in her oesophagus, which helped ease symptoms, and her first round of chemotherapy took place between September and November 2022.
However, during this time in the hospital, Lisa endured another significant blow. Her dad – with whom she ran the theatre company – passed away after a short illness, the first day she started chemotherapy.
Her dad’s death was a devastating blow, but ultimately led her to the Wellness Centre.
In the week of her dad’s funeral, Lisa’s hair fell out. Simone Noelker, manager of the Wellness Centre helped with a wig fitting. It was important to Lisa that she could attend the funeral looking like her ‘old self’ – she needed the funeral to be about her dad, without the distraction of her cancer treatment. The wig was so like Lisa’s hair that many people did not even realise what she had been going through.
Since this first appointment in the Wellness Centre, Lisa now regularly attends the Wellness Centre.
“The Wellness Centre offers amazing support – through the journey of losing dad and my own cancer journey – I can’t say enough for what they offer. Their friendship and support, and the programs they offer – they genuinely care for people.”
Lisa is a member of the Young Person’s Support group – where it has been great to connect with other people going through a similar experience. This support group allows Lisa to speak with others about their experiences, and challenges – particularly as a single-parent who has cancer and the responsibilities that come with that.
Lisa also regularly accesses oncology massage and shiatsu. These sessions help to alleviate her pain, but also finds the touch is comforting after the medicalised touching that comes with treatment.
Lisa also highly recommends the Look Good, Feel Better program. She describes how cancer radically changes your appearance and self-image, and this program is a way to help patients feel a little more like their old selves, so they can look in the mirror and feel a little bit special. She also found it very valuable to connect with other women on a similar journey. She is looking forward to starting Art therapy this month.
Aside from the programs offered, Lisa uses the Wellness Centre before and after treatments, where she finds it helpful to speak to Simone, the volunteers, and other patients – people who understand what she is going through.
Lisa describes the importance of having a welcoming space in the hospital to help deal with the emotional upheaval of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Lisa described the Wellness Centre like this:
“A place where you feel totally supported and cared for. If you need a chat or a hug, you know people are there for you, who understand what you are going through. Sometimes you can’t always do this with family and friends. It is an important place.”
Lisa is currently undergoing a second round of chemotherapy, which is hoped will shrink her tumour – and give Lisa and her son more time together.