Carly’s support network key to her cancer journey
Sutherland Shire resident and psychologist Carly is working her way through the breast cancer treatment process with a village of supporters by her side, including her family, friends, colleagues and the Southside Cancer Care Centre staff.
Carly first noticed the changes to her body while she was away on holiday. Her immediate port of call was her GP and then a surgeon. The surgeon referred Carly to Southside Cancer Care and from there, “everything went very quickly,” says Carly. She was sent for a mammogram, ultrasounds, biopsies and scans and her breast cancer was diagnosed in February this year.
As she had lost both her mother and grandmother to breast cancer, the time of the diagnosis was even more stressful. However, the good news since then, says Carly, is that “Apart from hearing ‘the C word’, everything post that moment has gone really well.”
Dr Tracey Dunlop at Southside Cancer Care Centre outlined the procedure for treating her cancer, starting with a program of chemotherapy. “She was very good at telling me all the steps in plain English – even to the point of drawing out a map for me of what my treatment was going to look like,” recalls Carly.
“I had AC chemo first, which was where they give you two different drugs fortnightly. I had four lots of that.” It is the phase where the most side effects are expected, but Carly had been prepared for the process and arranged to take leave from her job. Following this she had further chemotherapy treatment with twelve weeks of Taxol. “I’m nearly finished that now. The treatment will be followed by surgery, then radiation, then probably hormone treatment after that,” says Carly.
Carly praises Dr Dunlop’s regular consultations and the care she took in preparing her. “She made it all really easy to understand – how many weeks you have, what this treatment is, the side effects, how long it goes on and the things we need to watch out for.” Carly adds, “She always has the time for both myself and my partner.”
The adage is that ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, but Carly also applies this principle to raising a defence against cancer. “I’ve got a really good ‘village’,” she explains. “My partner has always come to my appointments until the recent lockdown and has been such an amazing support through this whole time. Both my mother and my grandmother passed away from breast cancer, but I have sisters and aunts. I’m very close to all my partner’s family, including his son. We’ve got two daughters together. They are twelve and six, our girls, so they have different levels of understanding of what is going on but are a really good support. Everyone is doing their bit”
Carly’s team of helpers includes the staff of Southside Cancer Care Centre from the receptionists to the nurses. “Even during lockdown, if I haven’t been able to have a support person with me, I know the nurses are there, and they are really good at support. The oncology nurses are so, so good. I’ve never had a problem. They are thorough. They’ll remember things about you, and they’ll have a chat. They are really good at doing their job, and at the bedside manner.”
Despite the circumstances, Carly has been able to appreciate the location and setting of the Southside Cancer Care centre. “It sounds really weird to say, but for the bulk of it I go and sit in a big comfy chair and read a book. The view is amazing. You just sit there and look out this great big window. For me, as a mum, it is actually really nice that all I have to do is sit in a chair for a little while!”
Carly’s professional life as a paediatric psychologist has been disrupted by the diagnosis and course of treatment. She credits a supportive boss with helping her adjust. “The boss of my practice is a good friend of mine, and she has been amazing – incredibly supportive. I had six weeks off straight away just to start my treatment and wrap my head around what was going on. Being in a caring profession it was really difficult having to say to all my clients – ‘Look I’m really sorry but I’m just not able to be available for a little bit.’ Clients and colleagues have been very understanding”.
While she has increased her work hours now, she is also taking on board the latest Covid-19 developments. “With the current lockdown I’m only offering people telehealth, primarily to teenage clients,” she says. “For me a big consideration has been how I go about keeping myself safe during Covid. The plan was to wait until after chemo was over and out of my system and then go and get my vaccination. I have to be really careful about who I come into contact with – apart from the actual legal side of lockdown. I’m just taking it as it comes.”
Carly has a positive approach to her cancer journey. “Really, while ‘cancer’ is an awful thing to hear someone say to you, following that everything has gone as well as it could go. The type of cancer I’ve got is known to be hormone responsive. My support has been amazing.”
The physical changes can also be emotionally challenging. Carly says, “Sometimes I have gone into my cave a little bit. But people need to realise that’s okay too. I’ll come out of it eventually. Sometimes I’m just working through it in my brain.”
As a psychologist, Carly has contemplated the viewpoints of both cancer patients and the people in their lives who want to help them. She observes, “Most people are at a bit of a loss about exactly what to do. I think everyone wants to be involved but if they haven’t done that sort of thing before it sometimes turns into a bit of a Mexican standoff: ‘I want to help you, but I don’t know how to help you’.”
Her advice to others diagnosed with cancer is: “It’s big and it’s scary. You’ve got to talk, and lean on people. Being the one who is sick, if you can think of something loved ones can do, just let them know. So, whether that is cooking a meal or grabbing some groceries or taking the kids out for a little while, all those things are really, really helpful.” She concludes: “Letting someone know you are thinking of them is really lovely. So, reach out”.