At 55, Glenda was a fit and healthy marketing consultant relishing in the joys of becoming a grandmother for the first time. It was the discovery of a small, painless lump in her throat that changed Glenda’s life.
“Eighteen days after surgery to remove the lump I had a massive bleed requiring hospitalisation to cauterise it. As I was going under, I was told I might not live through the operation but thankfully I did,” Glenda said.
“I had 35 rounds of radiation therapy simultaneously with chemotherapy over seven weeks. After the tonsil was removed, I had a PEG tube inserted into my stomach to allow me to have a high protein liquid food. It remained there for eight months. During this period I was unable to eat solid foods for most of that time.”
It wasn’t just the devastating diagnosis of cancer that Glenda and her husband Geoff had to cope with, it was also a social stigma associated with having a head and neck cancer.
“People assume that if you have a head and neck cancer, you have been a heavy drinker and smoker. But not all people who have a head and neck cancer have been drinkers or smokers including myself. Without using the exact words, some people considered me and others with this type of cancer to have lived a ‘dirty’ life,” Glenda explained.
Now in remission, Glenda is a volunteer at Barwon Health’s Supportive Care Centre, a place where she connects with people going through similar experiences in a non-clinical way. Glenda hosts morning tea twice a month in the centre and up to 30 patients and their family members attend to support one another.
“This cancer is less well-known and it can happen to anyone – it is a terrible cancer that causes so much trauma with a long road to recovery,” she said.
“I made a conscious decision to remember as much as could about my experience so that I could help others going through similar experiences.
“Many people supported me during and after my illness. Family, friends and members of groups that I have been involved with have helped to fundraise. The funds raised have been used to create bags of the essential things people need when they begin their treatment journey. We have been able to provide these bags to Barwon Health to hand out to newly diagnosed patients for the last five years The fundraising has also been used to provide patients and carers with support morning teas here in the Supportive Care Centre. However these are held fortnightly and sometime we can have 50 people through, so I’m finding it really hard to fundraise enough to support this number of people.”
Glenda was absolutely delighted when she received the news from Sara at the Barwon Health Foundation, that funds from Dry July 2017 will now fund her carer support morning teas and packs which will allow her more time to volunteer and support the patients and carers coming to see her (and her cooking!).
Glenda said her experience as a patient made her want to give back to others going through the same thing,
“I find the support I give to these patients and carers very fulfilling. After going through what they are currently going through, I feel very privileged to be able to give them information and ideas about what it’s like and what helped me. Sometimes it can be very hard to eat and keep weight on when you are going through treatment, and I try to bake things I know the patients will be able to eat. Often the carers when seeing this will go home and bake exactly the same things.”
At 63, Glenda’s treatment and recovery is ongoing but she hasn’t let it get in the way of living life to the fullest.
“I still have health issues that require monitoring and treatment but I have learnt to live around these limitations. I have a wonderful quality of life – I am living and enjoying my life with friends and family and doing volunteer work.”
Photos: Glenda and some of her baking
Photos: Glenda and one of our patients and her carer