‘I often have to deliver news of a cancer diagnosis to my patients. You have to break it to them in a way so that they understand what exactly they have. But at the same time you have to be mindful of how they would feel about the new diagnosis and be compassionate about what they would be going through psychologically.
‘The most important thing is to reassure the patient that it is a journey and that usually it is not black and white – it is usually a lot more complex and there is a lot more to it.
‘There is always hope. No matter how bad the diagnosis is there is always something that we can offer. I learnt this from Chris O’Brien – I was his intern – he told me a little bit about these things. He was saying never let your patient lose hope. At all times the patient knows there is a plan and there’s a path and we’re always with them on that path. It makes the journey a lot easier for the patient.
‘But there is so much that is unknown. I’ve seen patients that I thought would die very soon and I was surprised that they lived a lot longer. And the opposite also happens where the patient that I never expected to deteriorate, did. Medicine is not 100%.
‘You can’t predict anyone’s future. You just do the best the can and you put on a good fight. It’s usually a journey that the surgeon and the patient take together. Sometimes every now and then you lose the battle to cancer but the most important thing is that you provide the caring environment for the patient and you provide enough support so that they can at least go through this journey and be comfortable with it, not lose hope and not be scared. Fear of the unknown is the worst thing for a cancer patient – them saying, “What’s going to happen to me? How am I going to die?”
‘As surgeons we try to push the envelope as far as we can to tackle some diseases that we might think are incurable. We usually try to give it a good shot; for the suitable patient of course. You never try to shy away because you think you’re going to lose any way. You just go for it.’
‘Working in cancer care makes it harder – I get attached to everybody because I like people. You always get that one or two that you just get attached to a little more and if anything happens to them, it just affects you that little bit more. It gets hard sometimes and you know exactly when they leave here what the next steps are going to be.
‘It’s hard and I try not to but as a human, I get attached to everybody. That could be my downfall.
‘Sometimes I would go and see patients when they get moved to palliative care but not always. I don’t go to funerals of my patients unless I’ve known them for a very, very long time. I’ve been to about 3 or 4 when I’ve been invited by the family but I don’t routinely go to them.
‘The most rewarding part is just the patient saying thank you – that is the best part of it. The reward is knowing you’ve helped that person – not just them but their family as well.
‘I always say to people to do what you want when you want because you never, never know what happens tomorrow.’
‘It’s a tough place to work but a very positive place even though there is this concentration of grief. I hope to bring to someone like Maria, something that she would get in no other hospital which is that support and that love which comes in many forms – kindness, compassion, support and lot of things we take for granted – like our art programs.
‘The fact that she can just wheel herself down and play on the piano or join in on what everybody else is doing – listening to the music and the choirs. It’s like its own little world here – a world of kindness and hope if you like.
‘I think that’s what I bring because I’m a reminder of what Chris went through and what we as a family went through and so I totally understand what everyone else is going through.
‘My role as Patient Advocate is a way of supporting the vision which is patient-centred care and giving people hope.’
‘When they told me I had cancer, it was really painful – like my whole world shattered because first of all I am young; I am 29 years old.
‘I was diagnosed with Stage IV Colo-rectal Cancer. I had no idea; no idea at all. Because of my baby that’s when they figured out that I had cancer because it was really painful like I wanted to die – it was too much pain.
‘I heard the news (about my cancer) on September 12th. And then two days after she was born at just 32 weeks. They decided to take out the baby to see the real diagnosis of my sickness. When she was born, I felt really, really happy because my baby is healthy after all the antibiotics and medication.
‘I came to Sydney in April 2017 from the Philippines. I had like a training program in culinary – to be a chef. It’s like an internship. And then I got pregnant with my baby.
‘I am alone here in Sydney. My husband is here but I don’t have relatives here. My husband tries to visit every day but it depends on his schedule because he’s a pastry chef.
‘I like it here at Lifehouse. They really focus on you and give the best care that you can receive. They promised me that I will have free treatment here because we don’t have money and my husband is the only one who is working and it’s not enough. So in the Philippines it’s really expensive. Every session you go. I don’t know how much but it’s really expensive.
‘I just want my baby to grow strong. You know, like a really tough girl. Here at Lifehouse, it’s like giving me hope. The staff are really nice and kind to me. Hope is really important. It’s the only word I’ve been holding on to.
‘Sometimes I’m really losing hope. Every time I see my baby and my husband, it builds my hope again and again. So I’m thankful that they let them stay here – my baby and my husband.’
‘When I started out, I was just a really enthusiastic person that saw they needed help wrangling zombies. Seven years later I’m the head zombie of it all. I’m a bit of a horror buff so I love the gore but I also love the fact that it does raise money for a good cause – The Brain Foundation.
‘The Brain Foundation studies brain and neurological disorders and illnesses and so it covers things like brain cancer and stuff like that but they also look in to things like dementia and that sort of thing so it’s quite broad. I’ve had friends who’ve been affected and I’ve seen how much it can impact a family.
‘Every year the number of zombies doubles so we need as many zombie wranglers as possible. When it started out around 7 years ago we had about 100 zombies and it basically just multiplied every year and so now we’re one of the biggest walks in Australia for it. It’s really cool. Being a zombie wrangler is not a difficult job but we need all the help we can get.
‘Zombie Walks take place all over the world. Some of the earlier ones started in San Francisco but not all of them are fundraisers. I think that we’re the main one in Australia that does fundraising but the rest of them are more for horror buffs and for people who want to just get bloody and messy and scare the general public.’
‘When I was a kid I loved to draw. I loved creating stuff and imagining things but slowly over time it disappeared and I stopped drawing. When I hit my 30s, I decided to start getting up 15 minutes earlier before work each day. The first time I did it was really strange because I was just sitting there with this blank piece of paper and didn’t know what to do. It just grew bigger and bigger and now it’s about 1½-2 hours a day.
‘I used to see these two older men outside this café in Glebe. I drew them and imagined a story that perhaps they’d fallen on hard times but really they secretly controlled all the money in the world. I became friends with one of them and discovered he was a fine arts student back in the 70s or 80s. He’d actually been an artist all that time so it was a cool moment where the story I’d imagined came in to clash with a reality.
‘I always thought that I was normal as a kid – the way I thought – until I started talking to people and then I realised that maybe I’m not so normal – maybe I’ve got a slightly different perspective. I’ve always connected dots A & G rather than A & B. There is something inside me that just tries to connect things that are seemingly unconnected and so I love creating stories about the people I draw.
‘This whole process of rediscovering art has changed me a lot. It’s shown me possibilities and it’s helped me to connect with a whole bunch of people that I wouldn’t have before. It expands the world and it makes me much more empathetic for people. I’m now more patient and humble in how I try and understand them.’
Oscar Finch will be holding his first Honesty Box Gallery Exhibition at the HON Live launch event on Saturday 5th September. He will be also roaming the crowds incognito drawing people and creating stories about them.
‘Recently I broke up with my wife. Having to walk away from that and say I can’t do this anymore was really hard.’
What did you learn from your marriage?
‘Never confuse your projection of someone else with what they are. What you think someone is isn’t necessarily what they are and no matter how much you want to be someone else, they are them. Whoever it is, you’re going to be with, you have to accept them with no conditions.’