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Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre

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The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre (ONJ Cancer Centre) is a comprehensive cancer centre dedicated to providing leading medical treatment and breakthrough research, complemented by the best in wellness and supportive care. Patients are at the centre of everything we do and we empower their mind, body and spirit to be as strong as possible to manage one of the biggest challenges of their lives. By raising funds for Dry July, you are helping ensure the survival of wellness and supportive care at the ONJ Cancer Centre, which is not funded by the government. A vital part of emotional and physical health during cancer treatment, research shows that participating in wellness programs can increase patients’ chances of survival and minimises the risk of some cancers returning. Offering support through oncology massage, gentle yoga, art and creativity groups and specialist exercise programs helps patients manage the stress and anxiety that comes with cancer diagnosis and treatment and helps them to feel emotionally stronger. We rely on our community to raise funds for wellness and supportive care at the ONJ Cancer Centre, which is why Dry July is so important for us. Thank you for being an amazing Dry July’er!

Latest Updates

Finding confidence again through gentle yoga

Cancer diagnosis and treatment is one of the most stressful experiences in patients’ lives and presents challenges for them both physically and emotionally. Thanks to funding from Dry July, a six-week Gentle Yoga program is helping patients regain physical and emotional confidence.

“Yoga enables me to feel better physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually,” says Jackie Edsall, diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2018. “I find yoga provides very necessary soul food for me.”

Melissa Shand is a Gentle Yoga instructor at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre (ONJ Centre) and says yoga can be instrumental in helping patients manage the stress of cancer treatment.

“There is growing evidence of the benefits a regular yoga practice can have on people who have a diagnosis of cancer,” she says. “The people who attend yoga at the ONJ Centre have often not participated in any physical activity for some time and are unsure of their physical ability to participate. I have watched participants of the program grow in confidence in their ability to move their bodies and participate in a yoga class over the course of the program.”

Many patients find they struggle with an often onerous treatment regime, and yoga gives them the space to manage stress and anxiety.

“One patient found that since starting the yoga course, she was able to reduce pain medication and control her anxiety with mindfulness and breathing,” says Melissa. “She expressed that she got even more out of the program than she expected.”

“Without the funds provided by Dry July to run this program, these participants would miss the opportunity to re-engage with their bodies, their breath and their emotions, building their confidence to re-discover these types of activities within their local community,” says Melissa.

For Jackie, the benefits of yoga have been surprising and necessary in helping her re-gain confidence and strength.

“The nurturing and strength the Gentle Yoga program has provided me can’t be overstated and if supporting this program means going Dry in July, it’s a worthwhile price to pay!”

Gentle Yoga at the ONJ Centre exists because of support from Dry July and the wonderful supporters who go ‘dry in July’ to raise funds for these vital programs. We are deeply grateful for the difference you make to patients and their families. 

Support Dry July at the ONJ Centre by signing up or donating today .

Pictured: Gentle yoga teacher Melissa Shand and participant Jackie Edsall & Gentle Yoga class at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre

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Leaving a musical legacy

Dry July funding for the Music Recording Studio at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre (ONJ Centre) is giving patients an opportunity to express their feelings as they go through cancer diagnosis, treatment, and for some, end-of-life care.

Listening to and making music is one of the few activities that activates the whole brain, including regions related to emotion, movement and memories. Engaging in music therapy can help to reduce pain, anxiety and depression in patients with cancer and it can have a significant positive impact on their quality of life.

Kate McMahon is a Music Therapist at the ONJ Centre, helping facilitate music therapy for patients and families during treatment or during their hospital stay.

“I’ve seen music therapy help patients express difficult emotions and to find meaning, comfort and joy in the present moment,” she says. “It helps support families to connect and reminisce in difficult times and I’ve seen it bring people together in laughter and tears.”

Here at the ONJ Centre, song-writing is a powerful tool used to help patients express their thoughts and feelings about their cancer journey. For patients in end-of-life care, this gives them an opportunity to send a message of love to families and to create a legacy to be remembered by.

“Thanks to Dry July, our patients have the opportunity to use our custom-built recording studio to bring these songs to life,” says Kate. “For many patients, this is the first time they’ve attempted to write or record a song, and they’re often pleasantly surprised at their own abilities. In the recording studio, patients have the chance to sing, play instruments and contribute to the arrangement of their song. This unique experience gives patients the chance to be in control of their own legacy and achieve a sense of pride and accomplishment. The end result is a meaningful and personal work of art, and something to leave behind for loved ones.”

Every day, Kate sees patients and families express joy and gratitude for the opportunity to access music therapy.

“I’ve had patients tell me that music therapy is the thing that helped them get through their hospital stay,” she says. “Some patients tell me it’s been deeply meaningful. Family members often come up to thank me after a session, sharing that the session was really special and helpful.”

Kate says that for so many patients at the ONJ Centre, having access to programs like music therapy during treatment can make all the difference.

“Having programs like music therapy ensures our patients aren’t just cared for physically, they’re cared for emotionally, socially and even spiritually. This whole-person approach means our patients can feel truly cared for by our whole team and have a more positive hospital experience overall.”

Music therapy at the ONJ Centre exists because of support from Dry July and the wonderful supporters who go ‘dry in July’ to raise funds for these vital programs. We are deeply grateful for the difference you make to patients and their families.

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Gentle touch helps ease suffering

Oncology massage is a very gentle and highly specialised therapy which is available to all patients at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, thanks to ongoing support from Dry July.

“She’s the only one who can give me relief,” says patient Bev Douglas. Bev is talking about the specialist oncology massage she receives at the Wellness Centre from oncology massage therapist Bronwyn Hogan.

After being diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2017, Bev underwent multiple and extensive surgeries on her mouth and jaw, landing her in the intensive care unit for ten days and a further five-week stay in hospital. Radiation therapy followed. Bev now lives with chronic pain in her shoulders, neck and head.

“I get to the point where my neck feels like it’s wrapped up with barbed wire,” says Bev. “Bronwyn knows exactly what to do, she has amazing hands and such a gentle touch. It’s a life-saver for me and incredibly beneficial to my quality of life.”

Bronwyn Hogan, highly trained in the specialised skill of oncology massage, describes her observations of Bev, ongoing from when she first met her.

“Bev’s pain can be so severe it impacts her ability to swallow food, it causes headaches and restricts her head and shoulder range of motion,” says Bronwyn. “The result is that Bev cannot enjoy or undertake many aspects of life that she previously considered essential to her wellbeing and quality of life.”

Bev is adamant that her recovery and wellbeing are greatly aided by regular gentle and specialised oncology massage and there are times when she is completely pain-free in her neck and shoulders.

“The massage takes away all the pain up the back of my head and I am able to be virtually pain-free for the next two or three days afterwards,” she says. “I’ve also had lymphodema (swelling in an arm or leg usually caused by lymph node removal or damage due to cancer treatment) and Bronwyn has been able to help clear some of this and she has also shown me how I can massage the area myself for relief.”

Bronwyn is deeply grateful to Dry July for their support.

“This very special funding from Dry July enables patients like Bev and others with varying degrees of physical, mental and emotional suffering, to find their way back to a better quality of life via a massage-supported recovery.”

Oncology massage at the ONJ Centre exists because of support from Dry July and the wonderful supporters who go ‘dry in July’ to raise funds for these vital programs. We are deeply grateful for the difference you make to patients and their families.

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Going dry is a small price to pay

After his mum Jan was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in her spine in June last year, Ben Charles committed himself to joining up for Dry July, a fundraiser that encourages people to go alcohol-free in July to improve the comfort and wellbeing of people affected by cancer.

 “I had just found out my mother had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in her spine, I was kind of in a daze…not knowing what the future may hold,” says Ben. “Up late one night, I saw the Dry July TV commercial…it really grabbed me and I signed up straight away.”

Ben says Jan’s cancer diagnosis put a lot of things into perspective for him and trivial things, like alcohol, became insignificant.

“I realised by doing Dry July I had the ability to help people like Mum through the efforts of missing a few beers. Such a small price to pay when I think of my children missing out on sharing moments with their nanna. If the extended care and comfort helps extend the quality of life of a loved one then missing out on a few beers is a tiny price to pay.”

Ben raised over $1,000 which is helping ensure the survival of wellness and supportive care at the ONJ Cancer Centre. These programs, like oncology massage, gentle yoga, art and creativity groups and specialist exercise programs, help patients manage the stress and anxiety that comes with cancer diagnosis and treatment, and rely on community support for their survival.

After undergoing extensive surgery to her spine, Jan, a primary school teacher, has gone back to work part-time and is currently working 20 hours per week.

“She refuses to let the news bring her enthusiasm for life down,” says Ben. “But it is comforting to know that wonderful places like the ONJ Centre exist and are available for us when we need them.”

“The quality of life and the time we spend with loved ones is what we are trying to extend. The ONJ Centre helps that process to be easier regardless of condition or prognosis.”

Surprisingly, Ben also found that spreading the word about his Dry July fundraising page resulted in many messages of hope and support from his extended network.

“By far the most rewarding part was the extended well-wishes and donations, and that this challenging news in our lives had gone to some good.”

Ben can’t wait to take on Dry July again this year.

“It’s another opportunity to do some good, update everybody with Mum’s progress, light off the beers and raise some money!”

The ONJ Centre receives funds raised directly for the Centre by fundraisers (last year $70,000 was raised by our wonderful community), and we also receive grant funding from the Dry July Foundation. Since 2014, Dry July has been a strong supporter of the ONJ Centre providing over $600,000 in grants for wellness and supportive care programs.

You can make a donation to Ben's fundraising page by clicking HERE                        

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Using art as therapy - A carers story

When cancer suddenly enters, life is turned upside down. Uncertainty, instability and anxiety are common emotions for patients, carers and families. Jo Hogan, carer for partner Lori Crupi who was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2016, shares an honest and raw insight into living with cancer, and how art therapy has provided a place of solace amongst their journey of emotional chaos.

“Lori and I had gone to the doctor for our end-of-year annual health check. Lori was advised that her haemoglobin was dangerously low and had to go to hospital for an immediate transfusion,” says Jo. “She did not even go home to get things to take to the hospital. One minute we finished up our monthly Board Meeting (Jo and Lori run a business together) and the next minute life and business had been turned on its head.”

“Lori has blood cancer. There is no cure for her at this stage, just management. This includes weekly monitoring of her blood and a weekly blood transfusion which can take up to six hours. We are here at the ONJ Centre a minimum of two days each week.”

Before cancer, Jo and Lori lived a busy and active life filled with family, their business, travel, supporting their beloved football club, volunteering in their local community, helping with fundraisers, donating to charities.

“Together we have always been a resilient team,” says Jo. “We were used to dealing with uncertainly in our lives, but blood cancer, for us at this moment, is here to stay.”

“Initially, we were reluctant to take up the ‘non-medical’ support offered at the ONJ Centre for fear of being engulfed by the ‘cancer world’,” says Jo. “But unfortunately it is not something one can avoid as the journey progresses.”

“Our life and world are much smaller than they once were,” says Jo. “However we are grateful for all the support we have received and find happiness in the little things that life has to offer. We are very content these days. The Wellness Centre and Art Therapy Open Studio, out of everything at the hospital, are major contributors to this.”

When asked to talk about art therapy, Jo’s response is genuine and heartfelt : “Where do I begin and how does one express the incredible value of these wonderful sessions?”

Senior Art Therapist Fiona Scottney explains how participating in creative pursuits, such as art, can help with relaxation, relief from stress, a sense of accomplishment, connection to tradition, increased happiness, reduced anxiety, enhanced confidence, as well as cognitive abilities including improved memory, concentration and ability to think through problems.

“Painting and drawing focus on repetitive actions and a skill level that can be improved upon. Art Therapy at the ONJ Centre provides the opportunity to have time, space, art materials, safety and community in an environment where ideas, imagination and creativity can flourish with the support of an art therapist.”

“The thing I have enjoyed the most is looking at my blank canvas and going with the flow in the moment,” says Jo. “The greatest lesson is to face the fear and do it anyway, knowing that I am not judged and free to express myself and see and feel things that sometimes I may not have been present to in the cancer journey.”

“Some days, I may have had an anxious morning due to Lori’s results or perhaps to how she may be feeling. At times like this, I may take an hour just to get my paints together, stare out the window, simply watch others in the Open Studio paint and when appropriate, have a chat. This helps me feel connected, understood and re-inspired.”

“Our art therapist has a wonderful way of understanding our feelings and gently guiding us in the right direction. Sometimes it is just letting us be and providing space for us to be with our thoughts and feelings until I find my way to a canvas to paint.”

The Art Therapy Open Studio group meets every Wednesday from 2-4pm in the Wellness Centre and is open to patients as well as their carers.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity as a carer to be able to participate in the Open Studio with Lori,” says Jo. “Sometimes we just sit next to each other and paint with no words, or we encourage each other. It opens up conversations about our inner feelings that we may not have previously realised were there. Sometimes we just let the art and the process do the talking.”

“I have learnt about detachment, being in the moment, how I interpret the world around me, how to deal with the chaos of the journey – all at my own pace and choice. We are in well-qualified hands of art therapists who have the skills and ability to not only help us open ourselves to the art, but discover insights to help us find meaning and purpose from our feelings.”

Art therapy has helped Lori and Jo have important input into Lori’s treatment and management plan.

“We use the strength and peace we gain from art therapy to speak with clarity and courage to our doctors, to ask questions and to help Lori feel she has some sense of control over her cancer (as much as one can),” says Jo. “It’s about the whole person, not just the cancer. I have learned with cancer, it’s not the cancer itself that causes challenges for us, it is the side effects of the treatment (treatment for which we are most grateful). This requires stamina and getting the best performance out of ourselves.”

Lori initially benefited from immunotherapy for her blood cancer, however it gradually lost its effectiveness and current treatment for Lori is a weekly blood transfusion.

“Whilst waiting for another breakthrough or a new clinical trial, we must keep clear-headed, strong, resilient and well. Well enough so that when a new treatment is available, Lori is well enough in body and mind to deal with it and the side effects. This is why art therapy is a key in our approach to managing her cancer and the side effects of her treatment.”

“Art therapy is the here and now of our well-being and provides some stability in the uncertainty.” – Jo Hogan, carer

Wellness programs like art therapy give hope and emotional strength to our patients, their families and carers, helping them negotiate one of the most stressful times of their lives. These programs would not exist without support from our donors, including the ONJ Centre community and the Dry July foundation.

Jo is very grateful for the existence of art therapy, and encourages ongoing support from the community.

“It may not be a program where you can see your name on a plaque,” says Jo. “Your walking billboard is that Lori is alive and well, she herself is the physical asset. Art therapy has enabled us to live in the present, deal with uncertainty and have hope and strength for the future.”

“By contributing to the art therapy program at the ONJ Centre, you provide the survival toolbox for us to stay strong, well, happy, connected and to see ourselves as more than cancer. Our life is not on hold while we wait for new research breakthroughs.” – Jo Hogan, carer

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