Kerry embraces the unique Southside Cancer Care atmosphere

Kerry from the Sutherland Shire is having chemotherapy treatment at the Southside Cancer Care Centre. She has responded to her illness with a sense of humour, staying actively involved with her grandchildren and appreciating the staff who listen as well as the light-filled outlook at Southside Cancer Care.

Within a year, Kerry went from being a fit, active gym-goer lifting weights to a patient receiving regular chemotherapy treatment for bowel cancer and tumours in her brain and other parts of her body.

“I didn’t even know I had it,” recalls Kerry. No symptoms really stood out, but she had experienced headaches on the right side of her brain at times. Kerry took headache tablets as these continued over a period of six months, but after returning to Sydney from a trip to Bali, she decided to look into the issue further. She remembers both her husband and physiotherapist urging her “to get an MRI to make sure it’s nothing”.

After the MRI, Kerry’s doctor arranged an appointment with the neurologist, who explained the MRI had uncovered what was probably a benign tumour in her brain. Kerry was shocked to learn she had a tumour at all, but relieved that it could be benign.

However, a week after surgery to remove the tumour, Kerry learnt that her course of treatment was just in the early stages. In a series of challenging medical findings, it turned out that Kerry’s brain tumour was not benign and that she had bowel cancer. Her bowel cancer had metastasised, which has led to tumours in the brain and other parts of her body. The doctors decided Kerry needed an operation followed by an intense course of radiation and then chemotherapy.

Kerry had radiation for her brain cancer, a colonoscopy and other treatments. These were followed by chemotherapy. She was referred to Dr Dave Thomas at the Southside Cancer Care Centre and began her course of chemotherapy.

The Miranda-based Southside Cancer Care Centre has provided Kerry with a convenient and accessible way to receive treatment over a long period of time. “We live at Barden Ridge so we’ll just drive down to Miranda and park underneath,” says Kerry. Her husband drove her to the centre for eight months, but Kerry also feels confident driving herself in on treatment days. “It’s not a big deal – there’s free parking,” she adds. The positive vibe at the centre has also made Kerry’s journey easier.

“From the receptionists to the nurses and doctors at the centre, they have always been fantastic,” says Kerry. “All the girls are really nice. They just listen to me. They’ve listened to me whinge a lot! They are the only ones I really whinge to, and they just take it in.”

Southside Cancer Care’s setting has also helped Kerry with her experience. The chemotherapy treatment area has large windows that let in plenty of natural light. The incredible views provide a diversion, so patients receiving chemotherapy are not just sitting in an enclosed room looking at other patients. “At Southside, you are looking at something,” says Kerry. “You are looking out, you can see what the weather is like. You can be watching the planes coming in, or traffic. It’s just a really nice atmosphere.”

Kerry’s cancer treatment is being maintained. She had six months of chemo, then a break before another six months. She also had ten days of all-over radiation treatment when they found another four tumours in her brain. Minute but worrying signs of cancer in different parts of her body, including her lungs, chest and stomach mean that Kerry must be prepared for ongoing treatment – including “a big zap” if the brain tumours reappear.

“It does get to you. Sometimes I just think this is not fair,” says Kerry. “But then it is what it is – and they are keeping me alive, so that’s the main thing.”

Kerry’s resilient mental attitude is grounded in practicality. She continues to mind her five young grandchildren, including hosting overnight stays, at times, and keeps herself interested in their world. Kerry points out, “Although everyone says, ‘You’re so strong’, I’m just, ‘Well, how else am I going to be?’ For the grandkids, I have to be strong.”

Kerry found the changes to her body difficult as the former gym-goer and her husband enjoyed their active lifestyles. Her hands and feet suffered side-effects after radiation treatment. She has struggled to find the motivation to be active. Pandemic lockdowns have meant weeks of additional restrictions, keeping Kerry within the family bubble. However, she is now making a start on her plans for a better diet and more walking.

“I don’t go anywhere else, but now I can get dressed up a little bit to go the centre,” explains Kerry. “It’s just to make myself feel a little bit better when I go in and have chemo. I said to my husband, ‘I actually look forward to going there.’”

Kerry’s key advice to others is to go for regular checks. “Sometimes cancer comes up on you and you’ve got no idea. I didn’t know I had cancer. Check your bowels.”

Kerry recommends the Southside Cancer Care Centre to local cancer patients requiring radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment. She has found the centre to be a “happy place” and a great resource for listening, laughter and support in difficult times.

“I really get on well with the staff on the days I go in,” says Kerry. “We make it funny. Laughing is just something that you have to do at some point to keep yourself up.”