‘I started transitioning when I was 17 – it’s been about 5 years. I grew up on the Central Coast which has a very low trans population. There was probably me and someone else that was known for it in the gay community. Even the gay scene was really low so it was pretty bad.
‘I went to a Catholic School as well. I came out as a lesbian when I was 14 at the school which was not my best choice. I dropped out of high school because I went in to hospital for mental health reasons when I was about 17. And then I decided I needed to transition to a man and start doing the right thing for myself. There were a lot of members of my family who were quite actively not alright with it.
‘It sounds really weird but I didn’t think she [my partner] knew that I was trans because it wasn’t brought up. From the very beginning, there was no issue whatsoever. We’ve never had a problem with that. But on the Coast it was always something that was raised; there were always people talking about it.
‘When we met, she just didn’t give a second thought to being eccentric which helped lessen the anxiety about how people looked at me or how I behaved. Was I feminine or masculine enough? None of her friendship group even addresses that. They’re all so confident. I think her confidence has really rubbed off on me.’
‘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!’
‘When I threatened to move out, she would always say to me, “If you move out you’re not part of the family anymore”. At the start she said she’d disowned me. She didn’t talk to me at first. It was really messy. There were a lot of words and anger but she also grew up in a war zone and her family wasn’t the most affectionate. So I don’t really hold that against her. I understand her reaction and I expected it. She always threatened to do that and she did it in the end.
“I moved out of home last year and in Arab, but also Iraqi families in particular, that’s a really big no-no. I went through a period where my family’s relationship, until now, became very fraught because of that. It’s seen as betrayal to the family. The culture is rooted in family and you can’t break it up until you’re married and you have your own family.
“My family’s quite conservative and I just didn’t fit there anymore. I couldn’t really see myself growing as a person. I had to sensor my thoughts a lot and I didn’t want to live like that. As soon as I saw the opportunity to move I did it.
“It’s definitely a clash of culture. I’m a writer and I guess that’s also what my writing’s about – the relationship between first generation immigrants like my mum who came here in adulthood and their kids who came up here being Australian with different values.”