My cancer journey started in late 2013 when, aged 48, I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. And although the ultimate destination of my cancer train is still unknown, the first stop on the line was definitely hell.
2014 was a blur of invasive treatments. A double mastectomy was quickly followed by chemo and radiotherapy, after which I assumed I would start to get my life back. Instead the treatment caused a series of traumatic complications and side-effects that I was not prepared for and that still make daily life challenging, both mentally and physically, more than four years on.
After I was shunted through the various standard treatments, then fell off the end of the hospital conveyor belt, I concluded that conventional cancer medicine is quite good at saving lives, but even better at destroying our quality of life.
Cancer takes us to another country and many of us need help to find our way back to the world everyone else seems to be living in. Solaris Cancer Care is the bridge that spans both worlds for me. The staff and volunteers give us the compassion and real healing that is so often lacking in the hospital system, where clinicians often downplay the damage the treatments cause – because, hey, you’re alive after all!
I’m still a high-risk patient and one of the hardest things to deal with in the longer term is living with uncertainty about the future. The fear of recurrence is always there and we have to find a way to live with it. This kind of experience can make it hard to relate to friends and family in the same old ways, and not everyone lasts the distance. Thankfully, I have met many brave and beautiful souls through Solaris and made wonderful new friendships with people who understand how cancer has changed me because they are going through a version of the same thing.
Through the complementary therapies, support groups, courses, workshops and guest speaker events I have been lucky enough to access at Solaris, I have come to know many cancer patients. And only after hearing their stories have I realised that my experience is not so unusual. This cancer race is a marathon not a sprint.
Solaris Cancer Care is so much more than just the staggering range of support services they provide. It is a healing community of staff, volunteers, patients and their loved ones who, together, pick up the pieces and help us glue ourselves back together.
I have no doubt that Solaris has saved my mental health, and possibly by extension, my life. I am a stronger person today than I was before cancer because of Solaris.
I am proud to be their Dry July Ambassador for 2018, and encourage everyone to dig deep so they can continue to support the thousands of West Australians whose lives they enrich every year.