‘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.’
‘I was diagnosed with tonsillar cancer about 18 months ago. I thought it was an earache that turned out to be the tumour pressing on my auditory nerve and went through the full degustation of cancer treatment which is radio, chemo and surgery.
‘I’m a stand-up comic and used comedy as a way of coping.
‘The funniest moment was the anal swab. An anal swab is exactly what it sounds like. For some reason, things happen in the hospital at quarter to five so I was woken one morning and a lovely many said, “It’s time for your anal swab.” He did his business and he disappeared.
‘The weird thing was I kind of woke up the next day and I was wondering and asked the nurse, “Why do you do an anal swab?” She said it’s to prevent infection spreading around the intensive care unit. Not being a medical person I thought maybe if they wanted to prevent infection spreading around the intensive care unit there wouldn’t be one bloke sticking his finger in everyone’s bum.
‘I said to the nurse the next day, “What is the deal with the anal swab?” Nurses have the best sense of humour on the planet as they see humanity at its best and worst. And she said, “We don’t do anal swabs at this hospital.”
‘I never saw him again. Nor did he call. I didn’t get any results but he did swipe right so if this was Tinder, I’d be in luck!’
‘In the last few months of her life she aged 20 years in two months. It was really hard to see her deteriorate like that and not be able to do something about it. My mum battled different cancers for 10 years. She beat it twice and then it returned as a metastisised cancer in 2012 and was considered terminal. She was on a trial medication for around a year that had similar effects to chemo. That did slow things down but in the end it was just a slow deterioration. I think that’s the really horribly fascinating part of it is the way that it begins so innocuously. In the beginning it’s just a bit of pain and you almost wouldn’t even know there is too much wrong but then it’s like a slippery slope.
‘I was 23 when she passed. It was traumatic – the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. In a way I think that I kind of died that day with her and a new me was born. I really feel fundamentally different from the day before that.
‘Starting Busk for a Cure was a way to fill some sort of existential purpose as I was slowly watching my mum pass away from cancer. I love busking – it’s one of my favourite things to do. It’s so humbling and nobody ever needs to stop and listen or give you any money yet they do. I think there’s something so pure about it because you know they’re giving purely because they like your music – there’s no ulterior motive.
‘I know my mum would be proud. I just wish I could show her who I am now.’
‘On the last day we put him in the sunroom and we listened to Triple J and talked and that. I went home about 6 o’clock at night and we got the phone call at 4 o’clock in the morning and were told to come to the hospital. The nurse stepped out to stop us from going straight in to the room and told us. I got to see him and I gave him a kiss and all that and it was very peaceful but I wasn’t expecting it. It’s weird because there were other times during his illness that I was expecting it. The hardest things at those times, like when he had pneumonia so bad he was in intensive care for three weeks and had tubes down his throat and that, I had to realise that you can’t keep them alive for yourself. You’re not the one lying there with tubes down your throat – you can’t expect them to live for you. So I actually said to him, and I don’t know whether he heard me or not, I said, “Don’t stay alive for me.”
‘We were together for 15 years and 9 months. He made me who I am today without a doubt. And he made a lot of people. I think love, it can get you through things but also it’s very, very special. I don’t know that a lot of people will have what Goose and I had. Luckily, at the time, I knew I had it.’
‘They (Department of Education) told me in later years I wasn’t to hug the children and I said, “Well, it will be a long day before I can’t hug somebody.”
‘I can’t stop children from coming up and hugging me. I said that I won’t stop hugging them. I never did.
‘You know all children, doesn’t matter which ones they are, they all need love. You have to give it to receive it. I doesn’t matter how much their mums and dads love them, you can always give them a little bit more because everybody needs love and you can always do with a little bit extra of that.
‘Children are so hungry to be loved. That’s all most of them wanted – to be understood and loved. Because that’s the real main thing in life. Nobody listens much you know – they talk but a lot of people don’t listen to you, you know?’
‘Two weeks ago I went back to the doctor and they said they’re not going to treat me anymore. They said I’d had enough radiology and enough chemotherapy and I still had it so I don’t know…
‘I feel quite active though. My lungs are good and my kidneys are OK. And I really don’t feel like it you know – to be saying goodbye just yet.
‘I was Preschool Cook at Australia Street Infants School in Newtown. I started off in 1973 only for a week or two while I filled in for someone. At the end of the next week, the Principal came down and said I can have the job. So I stayed there as Preschool Cook for 39 and a half years. In that time, I cooked over 7,000 meals for the children and I cuddled them every day.
‘I was made redundant in Xmas in 2012 – it was really stressful. Not long after that I was diagnosed with cancer.
‘They reckon I might last until Christmas but that’s about all. And that was a “might”. They said it depends on how much it grows and how much I deteriorate. Last week was pretty tough because I really don’t want to say goodbye just yet. I find it very hard.
‘I still get kids and adults coming up to me in the street. It feels very good. It’s hard to remember them because they change so much from when they’re little but they come up and say, “Miss Fay, I gotta give you a hug!” and that feels very good.
‘I don’t expect anything in return because you do what you have to do. I was working and everything and I did it all for the kids. I just loved them so much.’
‘The GP said I had a 50% chance of survival when I got the prognosis. I asked her what that meant because no one survives life. Everyone’s got 100% chance of dying so what does a 50% chance mean? And she said 50% chance of surviving the next year.
‘If it wasn’t for new forms of treatment apparently I would have died. I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of advanced breast cancer four years ago and according to my oncologist I’m still in the critical phase for another year.
‘I don’t take my life for granted. I think I’ve been lucky to have been given these four years and I don’t know how much longer I have.
‘I watched a documentary once and they interviewed a funeral director. She said that regardless of the religion, a good life has had three things – compassion, love and gratitude. I wrote those three things in black texta on my mirror and I looked at it every day. The gratitude one is something that I really hold close to my heart. You try and see the good in everything.
‘What I’m grateful for is that I live more in the moment and appreciate the day. If you’ve only got a year left, you’ve really got to make the most of that year. That doesn’t make me different to anyone else. Everyone should and could live their lives that way but it’s just sort of being brought home to me more because it’s a reality.’