Living with cancer: Gay’s experience

Posted: 10th September 2021

Cancer survivor Gay knows all too well how devastating chemotherapy can be.

“I had terrible ulcers in my nose and sores in my mouth. I lost my hair – some of which has never grown back. I regularly felt nauseous and I lost my appetite,” she recalls. “At the time, all I could do was wish that it would stop.”

“I had five cycles of chemotherapy, followed by six weeks of radiotherapy. The chemotherapy was given intraveneously every three weeks. I'd just start to feel OK and then it would be time for the next treatment.”

But little did Gay know that her journey with cancer would be longer and more winding than she had ever expected.

While undergoing treatment for her breast cancer in 1999, Gay’s husband Kerry was diagnosed with an incurable brain cancer. He passed away just eight months later.

“When you have chemotherapy, it’s like your body goes into shock,” she says. “The biggest impact most people experience is the overwhelming fatigue. Just getting dressed in the morning can sap all your energy."

With her own cancer finally in remission, Gay married again. After a few years, her second husband, Robert, was diagnosed with bowel cancer and Gay again became a cancer carer. Robert, too, passed away after an eight-month battle with his cancer.

“When my first husband, Kerry, was diagnosed with a brain tumour, I learnt that my oncologist had lost her husband to the same cancer. She was very open about it, and the story of her lived experience was invaluable to me. It was like being forewarned. And it helped me talk with my 12-year-old son about how his dad's illness would progress.”

This memory – and all she had weathered as a survivor and carer – led Gay to become a volunteer for Cancer Council Victoria’s Cancer Connect services, providing peer-to-peer advice and support.

“I wanted to do something,” she says. “With all I’ve been through, I can help others in their cancer journey – either as a person diagnosed or as their carer.”

“When I was having my chemotherapy, I remember being told that I was lucky to be a fit healthy person. ‘You'll be able to take it’, they said. They were right. I am still here, and very grateful.”

IMAGE: Gay with her second husband, Robert. Our thanks to Gay for generously sharing her story and image.

Read more about SVI's cancer research that has the potential to make cancer treatment more targeted, reducing the severe side-effects experienced by patients like Gay.