The Beacon March FY23


If your house is a mess for six months, let it be a mess. Be kind to yourself. Take care of yourself.

Some people don’t receive the support they need during and after a breast cancer diagnosis, for various reasons. The Beacon invited three women to share their experiences and how they managed when they didn’t feel supported.

Donna Wedel Diagnosed: age 40 Year of diagnosis: 2020 Treatment: chemo, lumpectomy, radiation and tamoxifen for 5–10 years Lives with her pet cat Moo in Rockhampton The hardest part of being on my own was getting myself to all my medical appointments. I felt so alone, and this was compounded by the fact I had complex post-traumatic stress disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. Every emotion was magnified, so staying motivated was a huge challenge. My beautiful mum, who was 80 at the time and also a breast cancer survivor, was my greatest support but this was mostly limited to chats on the phone. Sometimes she would ask her support worker to take her to visit me. I have two siblings but we aren’t close. When it came to getting support, I mostly had to rely on myself – just suck it up and get on with it! Two things that have really helped me through the hard and lonely times are my love of music, especially Pearl Jam, and my cat Moo, who is a great companion. It’s a hard situation. When you’re used to being self-reliant you want to prove to people that you can do it on your own. But there comes a time when you need to ask for help. There’s no shame in it and people are generally more than happy to help. Trust me, it’s a lesson I’m still learning.

Sherie Smith Diagnosed: age 47 Year of diagnosis: 2020

Some people cooked meals but my kids are fussy so that didn’t really help because I’d still have to cook for them. Others donated money towards unexpected expenses. Parents from school would pick up and drop off my youngest, which meant I could rest. My breast care nurse Sue Monroe was fantastic. She helped me through a very stressful time by getting me on to a social worker to help with some issues my middle child was going through. I feel alone again now my treatment has finished but I’ve since learnt about the Cancer Council’s information and support line. I can call for health advice from a qualified nurse, which has helped when I’ve been worried about symptoms. My health is great right now. I have more energy and can do more. I’ve started working for the uniform shop at a local high school and I feel fantastic. My best advice to others is just to look after you. You won’t be able to do everything you’re doing now but it’s only short term, maybe six months or a year, maybe two. If your house is a mess for six months, let it be a mess. Be kind to yourself. Take care of yourself.

Treatment: lumpectomy, chemo, radiation and hormone therapy Lives with her three sons in Wagga Wagga In November 2020, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. They did a CT scan of my chest because kidney cancer can spread to the lungs or chest. That’s when they found a lump in my breast. My sons are nine, 22 and 24, so they are old enough to have been able to help me, but they are autistic, which makes everything a bit harder. I think they were also in denial about what was happening. My eldest would come and sit in the hospital with me, but I just needed him to look after his younger brothers. I needed help around the house. I was so tired. It would take me a week to clean the house myself. I eventually got an hour of cleaning each week through NDIS. I always asked them to start with the dishes. Some friends couldn’t deal with the C-word and I stopped hearing from them. They just backed away. I realised I just had to let those people get through it how they wanted to get through it. I had to focus on myself. Having faith in God helped me get through and people from my church did what they could.

in the nearby town were much older than me and did not have the responsibilities I had at my stage of life. It was a two-hour drive to treatment, but I would have to stop multiple times to rest along the way, as I was exhausted and felt unsafe driving with two kids. We moved back to Perth to live with my parents. It was a huge adjustment for all of us but it was the only option, considering my treatment regime and need for emotional support. Rentals were sky-high and I couldn’t live independently without an income. I was unwell and just in survival mode. I saw a clinical psychologist at one point but I was left to navigate it all largely by myself. There were waiting lists and long periods between appointments when you could get them. I experienced PTSD symptoms and severe panic attacks. Two years post-diagnosis I took a big gamble on my future and bought a house. It was a huge risk at the time, not knowing if I’d survive, but I was determined to give my kids the security of a permanent home. I had been out of the workforce completely for nearly a year while I recovered. I was working part time and was the sole breadwinner. It took a few years to build up to working full time again.

In the early days, post-diagnosis, I attended a support group for young women. It was about connection for me, knowing how others felt without having to say anything. As time moved on, I remained connected with some of the women. The best part is that when we catch up now, we hardly ever mention cancer! I have found it to be a long, hard road, but the terrain gets easier to walk on.

NO ONE SHOULD GO THROUGH BREAST CANCER ALONE. BCNA HAS A RANGE OF RESOURCES AND SERVICES TO SUPPORT YOU: Join our Online Network to speak to others going through a similar experience Call our Helpline for support, information and referrals Sign up to My Journey to access a range of articles tailored to your situation Watch and listen to our digital resources , including webcasts and podcasts

Alysia Kepert Diagnosed: age 33 Year of diagnosis: 2010 Treatment: mastectomy, chemo and hormone therapy Lives with her two adult children in Perth At the time of my diagnosis, I had a 10-year-old son, and my other son was six and just starting school. My relationship with my boys’ father did not last beyond my diagnosis. Suddenly I was a single mum, living on a farm and very isolated from family, friends and specialist support. In terms of immediate support, there wasn’t really anything for me. The only people that had experienced breast cancer



March 2023 | Issue 94

Breast Cancer Network Australia

Issue 94 | March 2023

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