Participant Story: Jane Andrews

Give to help make adult cancer patients more comfortable 

Small comforts mean a lot to people going through chemotherapy or radiation, says Jane Andrews, who had treatment for breast cancer six years ago. 

“Being able to read a magazine that isn’t 20 years old, having someone bring you a cup of tea or people doing a jigsaw together – it stops the environment from being too clinical and creates a more homely atmosphere,” she says. 

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Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 46 and had a double mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. “Going to oncology outpatients for chemotherapy was particularly scary, so anything that can make it a better experience is definitely worth it.” 

Jane has signed up for Dry July, and you can support her here: https://nz.dryjuly.com/profile/janeandrews

“I would really encourage others to sign up or to sponsor someone. Everyone knows someone who has had cancer,” she says. 

Funds raised go to help adult cancer patients receiving treatment at the Canterbury Regional Cancer and Haematology Service based at Christchurch Hospital. 

Last year $186,719 was raised for CDHB’s Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. The money is being spent on a number of projects including iPads for watching movies, playing games or listening to music while receiving chemotherapy; murals for radiotherapy treatment areas; and more comfortable electric beds.  

This year, in addition to further improving patients’ experience at Christchurch Hospital, CDHB also wants to improve the comfort of those who receive treatment in our regional hospitals.  

Today Jane, a former nurse, is well and is enjoying a new career working in clinical trials. It was while she was undergoing cancer treatment that she decided to complete a Masters Degree in genetics. She is now Study Co-ordinator at Southern Clinical Trials.  

“I love my job, it incorporates a bit of nursing and research skills. And I would never have done it if I hadn’t had breast cancer. I have forged ahead and I have blossomed.” 

For more information on Dry July including how you can support friends and family who have signed up, visit www.dryjuly.co.nz or
facebook.com/dryjulynz

Participant Story: Lisa Dawson

Losing a best friend to melanoma and her father-in-law only last month to pancreas cancer has given oncologist Lisa Dawson added empathy for the many patients she sees suffering each day.

It has also added incentive for her undertaking Dry July this month.

Originally from the UK, Lisa chose to specialise in oncology after losing her friend Jo to cancer at age 40.

“Jo had ten children and the youngest was only four months old when she died,” says Lisa. “After being diagnosed with melanoma in her brain, Jo had to wait an agonising three weeks to see an oncologist. Her cancer journey was not a good one, although she did get to make a video saying good bye to her children.

“I wasn’t an oncologist when Jo died – I chose to specialise the following year because I felt passionate that I wanted to be involved in making the cancer journey for patients as positive as possible.”

Training to be a medical oncologist since 2008, Lisa and her husband Steve with their six kids have moved around the country, finally settling in Whangarei six months ago to take up the position of medical oncologist and head of department.

Dr Lisa Dawson and fellow oncologist Dr Vince Newton with (right to left) – Annie Johnson, Cathie Locker and Carole Vercoe in the oncology unit at Whangarei Hospital.

“Many positive things are happening in oncology now to improve the patient journey. Upon diagnosis we try and breach the gap until they are seen by providing support from oncology nurse specialists who keeps patients informed and co-ordinate appointments and investigations, along with helping the patient navigate their journey. Our aim is to support patients from the time of diagnosis right through their journey.”

She says, the newly-appointed funding for psychological support for cancer sufferers from the last government budget, should see a full-time councillor for Whangarei patients in the future. This will provide much-needed psychological support. They have also received funding for a Maori and Pacific patient navigator who they are in the process of recruiting.

As head of department, it made sense for Lisa to take part in Dry July.

“I’m not a big drinker but, since I undertook this job, I’ve had a heavy workload so I have to say I had been enjoying unwinding with a glass or two of wine at night but it backfired and made me feel worse. I wasn’t sleeping so well, wasn’t exercising (who exercises after a glass of wine!) and was putting on weight so decided several weeks ago to stop. Now I do my exercise programme instead and feel better, sleep better, have more energy and am less stressed. Dry July will give me an incentive to keep going.

Her husband has also recently cut down his alcohol consumption and lost 7kgs. The couple have been noticing other benefits – besides their renewed energy it has saved money. It is also setting a good example to their children, aged between seven and 14 who often join them in their workouts.

However, it is not without its challenges: “I’m having my first week off work in seven months during Dry July and going away on holiday. I probably would have had a few drinks that week. Also we’ve got a celebratory drinks party to welcome the new medical oncologist Vince Newton. We have been looking forward to having Vince join our department and sharing the load. It’s great news for Northland to have two permanent medical oncologists to offer continuity of care.”

Lisa hasn’t ruled out asking someone to sponsor her in buying a Gold Ticket to allow her a drink at these events.

“Dry July is a great opportunity to contribute to supporting people in Northland with cancer while doing something for yourself that’s going to make you feel a lot better. Being new to the community, it will be really nice to contribute to what the community has achieved already. It will be great to be involved and be a part of that process.

“It’s also a reminder to us all as a community of the benefits of healthy living. There is increasing evidence that reducing alcohol consumption, increasing exercise and reducing obesity all contribute significantly to reducing the risk of cancer.”

Lisa sees patients of all ages and at different stages of their cancer journey. “Often it’s quite a traumatic time for patients and their families. Apart from the challenges of treating patients, it’s a privilege to be a part of their journey, trying to provide the best care and giving people the courage to make that journey the best they can.”

She says that communication is key in helping people to understand what is happening to them and what the future looks like. Stories and analogies can helpful: “I had a Maori patient the other day who I was having difficult engaging with. Despite being on treatment that was working he was filled with despair and a sense of having no control over what was happening to him. He always just sat in the chair looking down at the floor. We got to the stage in his chemotherapy treatment where he could choose to go on or stop and have a break. He just shrugged his shoulders and told me I was the doctor.

“I often use an analogy that the patient is captain of their boat, or in Maori the Kapene of their waka, on this journey called cancer. The Kapene gets to choose which way the waka travels. We can help navigate and paddle the waka but I am not the Kapene - the patient is. I had forgotten the name Kapene and asked this patient what the captain was called in Maori. He didn’t know but suddenly looked up and said: “The Man” and he suddenly got it. This was his journey and he was the “The man”. His whole demeanour changed.

“It was a really good experience. He chose to carry on with treatment but now he was calling the shots.

“I get quite animated when I think about these stories because I love my job. I love seeing patients empowered to take control of their journey, I love seeing the positive outcomes this can bring. Like families reconciled because their priorities change and people who are cured often see things differently because they’ve had to face their mortality and re-evaluate their priorities.

“When my father-in-law died recently, we had an amazing time as a family. We were by his side constantly for the final days and had a wonderful time catching up. All of his children were there - it was the first time they had all been together like that since they were kids. He died in a hospice bed in the local hospital. They had created a wonderful environment there and it was a positive place to be.”

Lisa would like to see the money raised locally go towards creating a similar great environment in the new cancer centre with new furnishing and equipment.


Dr Lisa Dawson and fellow oncologist Dr Vince Newton with Carole Vercoe (left) and Cathie Locker in the oncology unit at Whangarei Hospital.

“We’re just hoping that we can put those funds towards providing the best possible environment for those suffering with cancer.

“When Tauranga built their cancer centre in 2008, I was there for the opening. They were bequeathed a sum of money to provide non-essential items for the centre – subscriptions to magazines, TVs, couches - so patients and family had somewhere nice to sit while they were waiting. Some patients have ten hours of chemo, that’s a lot of sitting around. We haven’t got anything like that at the moment so it will be great.

“Our nurses have provided a great service in cramped surrounding for many years. We are all looking forward to moving into the new cancer centre. With two permanent oncologists, specialist nurses, cancer navigators, plans for counsellors and room for volunteers to serve morning tea, we are looking at a much-improved service for Northlanders with cancer. I’m incredibly grateful to Northland DHB and the community for giving me such a great opportunity to be part of that. The team here and the community can be very proud of what thy have achieved over the last three years.”

You can donate to Lisa’s Dry July here: https://nz.dryjuly.com/profile/lisadawson

CDHB Ambassador: Josh Komen

Life changed completely for the 23 year old in 2011. It was his biggest year yet in athletics. He was riding high on the success of a national number one ranking for the 800metres. He’d planned a trip to the United Kingdom in May with his mates.

Josh hadn’t felt a hundred percent for a while, he was more tired than usual and had torn ligaments in his left ankle. But, in “true bloke style” he pushed on. The day before Josh was to leave on the trip, his left eye swelled up for no apparent reason. He travelled from Greymouth into Christchurch Hospital’s emergency department, received treatment and went home. The swelling got worse though and on return to ED blood tests were ordered. When the results came back they were devastating. Josh had leukemia.

“I didn’t know what leukemia was. When they told me it was cancer in my blood I just couldn’t believe it,” says Josh.

He was transferred to Christchurch Hospital’s bone marrow unit and placed under the care of Haematologist Dr Peter Ganly. A gruelling regime of four rounds of chemotherapy, eight hours per day, 10 days at a time began. This was followed up with intravenous lumbar punctures three times per week. Josh and his family stayed at Ranui House for the six months of treatment and recovery. They went through some really challenging times. At one stage Josh had an anaphylactic reaction to the platelets being pumped into his body. Then, in October, Josh’s cancer went into remission.

“I knew there was a high chance of relapse. I felt helpless and depressed. I’d lost all the fitness I’d worked so hard on for my running. I felt like I was back to square one,” says Josh.

He made a conscious decision to change his life. He worked really hard to get his basic fitness back – exercise, healthy eating, the end of his beer drinking days. In April 2012 he made it to the Mount Everest base camp, an amazing achievement. He also met a young woman, Clara in Laos who is now his partner.

Learning to sky dive came next and after completing 180 jumps, Josh gained his commercial Sky Diving diploma and license. He spent two weeks with Clara in Germany.

In November 2012 the cancer came back and it was much more serious. A bone marrow transplant was recommended and the search for a suitable donor began. In the meantime Josh had six rounds of full body irradiation and special chemotherapy that killed off his bone marrow. But there were more challenges ahead. Josh contracted a serious infection that invaded his lungs, brain and blood. He lived at Christchurch Hospital and Ranui House for over year.

“I was on life support for 10 days. They told me I should have died. I lost a lot of weight, got down to around 51 kg. When I woke up from a coma the doctors told me they had found a bone marrow donor and I had three weeks to get my body ready for it,” says Josh.

The transplanted marrow made a 92 hour trip from its donor in Germany to Christchurch Hospital and Josh. His body however had trouble accepting the transplant and Josh developed graft vs host disease which affected his liver, stomach and eyes. A high dose of steroids and anti-immune system medication brought Josh’s condition back under control.

Josh is currently in a one year maintenance programme where the level of steroids is adjusted according to his body’s needs. Fortnightly trips to the hospital for a checkup are now part of his everyday life. He plans to move to Germany with Clara once he gets the all clear.