Debbie takes control of her future

Sutherland Shire resident Debbie met 18 months of challenges following a cancer diagnosis with fierce determination, huge support from her family, friends and colleagues and professional care from the Southside Cancer Care team.


Debbie (on the left) with her daughter and sister.

Debbie was tested for bowel cancer at the urging of her husband, despite having no concerns or symptoms. “Someone at my husband’s work had passed away – from bowel cancer. My husband was persistent in encouraging me to go and get tested, which I did. And thank God I did”, Debbie recalls.


On the 9th of July 2019, Debbie was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Despite the lack of obvious symptoms, the cancer had metastasised to her liver. “It is still quite surreal after 18 months of chemo that I actually have cancer,” says Debbie.


She had long been planning an overseas trip that was rescheduled to follow her son’s graduation. Instead, the plans were upended by the cancer diagnosis, and Debbie commenced a completely different type of journey.


“Life has been tough for the last 18 months. You try and pretend everything is normal, but it is not.” Debbie observes, “I think the whole family is on the journey, it is not just you.”


Debbie was thrown by the cancer diagnosis and the prospect of undergoing chemotherapy. Fortunately, a recommendation from a doctor she saw at Sutherland Hospital helped ease her path. “You panic when you hear you have cancer – I remember considering the hospital’s facilities and thinking ‘I can’t do it’. The doctor referred me to Southside Cancer Care Centre at Miranda. I had never heard of Southside because no one in my family has been directly affected by cancer. To us, it was all new. When I walked in at Southside, I thought this is just beautiful.”


Debbie’s course of treatment involved intense chemotherapy and two major surgeries – one in January 2020 and one in September 2020. The next step involved intensive chemotherapy at Southside Cancer Care. “The liver cancer came back again, and now I’m having intensive chemotherapy with Dr Ramya and just hoping to get rid of it this time. The bowel cancer disappeared with the first round of chemo, which was great,” says Debbie.


Family members and work colleagues have played an essential part in supporting Debbie through the period of intensive chemotherapy. Her daughter and her sister accompany her to appointments. Debbie says, “My daughter especially has been my rock. The role-play has just completely changed. She has stepped up and it has just amazed me. She and my sister come to all my treatments and appointments, so I have my sister and my daughter with me the whole time.


“I’ve got a very supportive family, which really helps with this. I’m lucky because I always have a lot of people around me.”


Debbie has continued working in administration for the Intellectual Disability Foundation of St George. “People at my work have been amazing. Work has been amazing if I need time off. When I look terrible at work, they say ‘Go home’, but sometimes when you look terrible, you feel okay. They are just always there for me.”


Debbie’s job has actually helped her to cope. She says, “I have continued work as I think it’s the only thing I have control of in my life while going through something I have no control over. Work is something I just feel I’ve got control of.”


Keeping aside some leisure time for positive activities is also important to Debbie. “Outside of work, every second week that I don’t have chemo, my sister, daughter, husband, brother-in-law and I all make an effort just to get out. Whether it is to go down the coast for a drive and some lunch or even just go out to dinner, we make a point just to keep living.”


Debbie’s experience at Southside has helped her through the process. She appreciates the centre’s sweeping views of the city skyline. “The girls at Southside are amazing – from when the sliding doors open, the reception girls are beautiful; and the nurses are beautiful. It’s amazing there and I’ve recommended Southside to other people who need treatment because it is terrific, and the people are so warm. Esther and the team are just amazing. The facilities are beautiful. It is clean. It is spotless. Nothing is an effort.”


Debbie comments, “At the front door, they greet you by your first name. They are greeting hundreds of patients at Southside but the staff treat you like you are the only patient there. That is important – when you are going through something like that you need to feel like you are the only one.”


The battle with cancer has provided Debbie with some life lessons that resonate. Her main advice to others in the early stages of their cancer journey is to stay positive. “You have to be positive, and you just can’t let it beat you – you just can’t.”


Debbie reflects, “This horrible disease has taught me to live life to the fullest. Basically, you need to create memories. I became a grandmother during the process, which is pretty exciting. My little grandson is only five months old – so with him, there is something really positive to look forward to.”