It was a regular weekend; Sue was grabbing takeaway coffees on her way to visit her mum. She never imagined she would soon be sitting in Wesley Emergency Centre. She never imagined it would be another 25 days until she was discharged from hospital. She never imagined having to keep something like this from her daughter. But then again, Sue never imagined she would be diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.
That is where The Wesley Hospital Choices Cancer Support Centre (Choices) comes in – helping people when they are facing the unimaginable.
“I was in emergency, having had a coughing fit that morning. It was a Sunday and I was thinking I’d be back home for wine o’clock on the deck. By 3pm that day, I was being told I had cancer,” recalls Sue.
Sue said she was totally shell-shocked.
There were days filled with tests and scans before doctors could confirm the type of cancer.“I said ‘are you sure it’s not tuberculosis?’ You think ‘anything but cancer’. It was this overwhelming collision; an explosion of fireworks. Then a floodgate opens up. How do you cope with something like that when it hits you that hard, and you have no way of knowing what to do or where to go?”
“At that stage I was thinking it was all through my bone marrow… all over red rover.”
That was when Sue crossed paths with one of the Wesley Choices team.
“I didn’t know Choices existed. I was really struggling at that time and didn’t know how to move forward... I originally didn’t want treatment because I was focused on quality of life. However between the compassion from the Wesley Nurses and the support of Choices, this changed.”
“I remember the Choices team coming to see me, as they knew I was getting results regarding the bone marrow. It was actually pure relief when I found out it was lung cancer – the joy of not having bone cancer!” Sue says, noting the irony.
Sue with her husband Harry
“Despite this support, that can be when you need Choices. You’re more mindful of your husband and daughter and their feelings and they really help with that.”
Sue’s daughter is studying medicine in Canberra and was in the middle of exams when Sue was diagnosed.
“Wesley Choices helped me come to terms with not telling my daughter immediately, because I felt really guilty. We’re a really close family, and I’ve never ever not told her anything, so I really struggled with that. My husband went down once we knew what was happening and we set up a Skype date,” said Sue.
“The hardest thing we’ve ever had to do was telling her.”
Sue was released from hospital on her daughter’s 21st birthday, with ongoing support from Wesley Choices and her family.
“They were there for daily radiation. I had 28 rounds and weekly chemotherapy. They’ve made everything seem possible with my dance through cancer; everyone says ‘ journey’ but I didn’t pick a journey.”
Sue’s current treatment plan is 12 months of immunotherapy.
“I’m blessed to have the option of immunotherapy, because otherwise there’d be nothing for me. So the money for research is great. But it’s more than that. It’s helping you cope through the treatments and navigating life.
“Without the support of Choices and my incredible Wesley doctors and nurses, I’m not sure where I would be as far as head space. They’ve given me the gift of hope because you need something to focus on.”
Sue has participated in a Women’s Wellness after Cancer program and the Look Good Feel Good workshop, hosted by Wesley Choices. There are a free range of classes for all men and women, facing all types of cancer.
“I also do yoga and massage, with other options of tai chi, Pilates, relaxation and an art program.”
The free community service is backed by surgical, oncological and allied health services provided by The Wesley Hospital; and offers a year-round program of events based on sound evidence, with expert peer support and clinical specialist nurses.
Sue said the Wesley Choices team’s commitment and support is mind-blowing.
“You are faced with things, you feel you cannot or don’t know how to control. How do you walk through your life, with all of these emotions? Choices actually takes that and puts it on a hold, and gives you a pathway forward to be able to cope.
“Calling Wesley Choices amazing is an understatement. It’s like a lifeline you’re offered when diagnosed with cancer. It’s a safe haven.”
This Dry July, Sue is raising money for The Wesley Hospital Choices Cancer Support Centre.
“The money will help in adding extra therapy programs like yoga or tai-chi. When you’re looking death in the face, the benefits of Wesley Choices programs aren’t just physical, they’re also mental … and if your mind isn’t in a good place, there is no way you can get through this.”
Find out more about The Wesley Hospital Choices Cancer Support Centre.