When Georgia McLennan (pictured) was diagnosed with a deadly rare lymphoma at the age of just 23, doctors couldn’t believe she was still alive. She seemed so healthy and vibrant, with none of the usual symptoms presented by this type of cancer. Yet PET scans showed a very different story to her outward appearance, the disease having spread through much of her body including her lungs, breasts, liver, spleen … even growing in her fat.
It all started on New Year’s Eve 2015, when Georgia started experiencing severe pains in her chest. Georgia was beyond frustrated. She was studying nursing full-time while working part-time in a pharmacy dispensary and while she continued to push herself to continue, everything was becoming more and more unbearable. This went on for about three months when another doctor finally determined she didn’t have a stomach ulcer at all but, in fact, tumours on her spleen and liver.
Georgia was given an ultrasound which showed fluid where it shouldn’t be. She was kept in overnight and a cannula placed in her arm for a drip. However, the PET scan revealed just how dire the situation was. By this time Georgia said she was so swollen she looked six months pregnant with the scan revealing the cancer had spread through much of her body … her lungs, breasts, liver, spleen, even growing in her fat. Tests revealed the cancer originated in Georgia’s spleen and that it was actually a rare type of blood cancer called Burkitt’s Lymphoma.
While this was good news for Georgia who appreciated it had a better outcome than other cancers, it was devastating for her partner Tawanda, whose best friend died of the disease in Africa where it is more prevalent. Georgia had three months of daily chemotherapy and spinal injections about every two weeks. And while chemotherapy often makes patients feel worse, Georgia, who was already tired and in pain, found immediate relief.
“It weirdly made me feel great. In fact, the pain stopped after the very first round. And I could see my stomach returning to its normal size. I spent a lot of my time in the Gold Coast University Hospital’s chemotherapy chairs. It’s so important to be comfortable when you have chemo. You’re feeling sick most of time and in pain. They lie down too which I needed because the spinal injections gave me very bad headaches which eased if I lay down,” she said.
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Bonnie Day was in shock when she discovered she had breast cancer. As the mother of two young children, six-year-old Maui and Kora, 3, she knew she had to survive the deadly diagnosis to be there for them as they grew.
It started in 2016 when she asked her doctor to check a lump that was irritating her breast. At the time the 34-year-old didn’t believe it was anything sinister but a biopsy soon showed there were actually three lumps, two of them malignant.
Doctors decided the best option was to remove her breast as they couldn’t just take the lump out, but Bonnie opted for a more drastic course of action. The administration manager remained in hospital for one week followed by a course of intense chemotherapy. Gradually the dosage lessened over the six months she received it, but it didn’t stop her feeling “really ill, really drained” and losing all her hair.
Bonnie came to understand the importance of the hospital’s chemotherapy chairs, in which every month more than 1600 patients spend up to eight hours receiving treatment.
“They were amazing. They are so comfortable and they are essential when you are having treatment because you feel so bad,” she said.
Gold Coast Hospital Foundation will hold fundraising Care for Cancer Lunch on March 16 at Palazzo Versace. CEO Kim Sutton said money raised will provide much-needed funds for the Cancer Patient Transport Service, and help pay for new chemotherapy chairs at the Gold Coast University Hospital.
Tickets are $110 per person or $1100 for a table of 10 and can be booked at http://bit.ly/2n96huS
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Whether it’s the growing Gold Coast population or that more people are undergoing cancer treatment, but the need for chemotherapy chairs at the Gold Coast University Hospital has never been more critical.
The highly-specialised chairs cost $5000 each and Lisa Roberts, Service Director, Cancer, Blood and Palliative Services for Gold Coast Health, says they play a crucial role in cancer treatment.
“When we moved from the old Gold Coast Hospital at Southport in 2013 we only had 11 chairs but in the past five years that number has grown to in excess of 22,” Ms Roberts said.
“Previously we couldn’t expand due to limited space and many patients had to go to Brisbane for treatment. Now we treat about 1600 patients a month through that unit and in those chairs, and that number is only increasing. Our graphs show it is on an upwards trajectory.”
The unit now treats about 19,200 a year – a 6 per cent rise on the same time the previous year. And it’s a percentage increase that has been reasonably consistent year on year, at times even as high as 10 per cent.
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