Holistic and empathetic care

Being diagnosed with cancer was shocking and emotional for mum Fiona O’Rourke, but the care and compassion of her Epworth medical team stood out.

“The diagnosis came out of the blue, I have no family history of breast cancer,” Fiona said.

“In April last year, I thought I better get a lump checked out, just to rule out any worries. I’d had a few cysts before.”

After a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, Fiona knew something was wrong.

“It was quite traumatic. I still get emotional thinking about it,” she remembers.

Fiona is grateful she was referred to specialist breast surgeon Su-Wen Loh.

“He was lovely, so compassionate and empathetic. I was so glad to have someone like him looking after me,” Fiona said.

“He said repeat these words: ‘I’m going to be ok’. Right through my appointment he kept reinforcing that I was going to be ok. That was crucial to me in my journey, and I still say that mantra now.”

Adding to Fiona’s distress was dealing with restrictions during pandemic lockdowns.

“No children were allowed into the hospital or doctors’ clinics then, so my husband Shane stayed in the car with our son Conor. Su-Wen walked out with me after that first appointment, stood 1.5 metres away from my husband and told him that everything was going to be ok. He went above and beyond.”

After an MRI and CTscan, a plan was made, considering Fiona’s medical needs but also her emotional and family needs.

“The lump was quite large and normally that would mean a mastectomy and staying in hospital for many days, with no visitors due to COVID-19,” Fiona explained.

“Su-Wen thought that would not be good mentally for me or my family. I have never been away from my son.

“So instead, they removed a quarter of my breast and if the margins were good, I could then progress to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. If the margins were not good, I would have a mastectomy when lockdown was over.

“It turned out that was the only operation I needed – the margins were good and I went on to chemotherapy.

“I cannot thank Su-Wen enough for his compassion; he is such a beautiful man.”

Over the next six months, Fiona had her chemotherapy at Epworth Richmond, a difficult time with all her family in Ireland, in-laws in Albury facing border issues and feeling very sick and isolated. She was able to enjoy Christmas after finishing radiotherapy at Epworth Freemasons and signed up to Enhance, our oncology rehabilitation program at Epworth Hawthorn.

“I thought I would bounce back quicker than I did. The rehab program was just what I needed.

“Cancer took my confidence. But my physiotherapist encouraged me and you surprise yourself. I’m marking little milestones and getting back to where I was.”

Fiona returned to teaching this term and is cherishing many positives.

“Getting cancer was a terrible thing to happen, but I have lots of blessings.

“The women I met in the Enhance rehab group I see being in my life forever; they are inspiring women.

“I’m so much more grateful. I stop now and think how wonderful this moment is and to be alive. I just cherish the happiness all the more.”

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