“Being diagnosed with cancer makes you see life in a different way because you see a bigger and a wider world,” says cancer survivor and campaigner Meg Corlis. “You feel that those who have brought you through it need to be thanked. So, being able to tell others that there is help, there is another side to it, it doesn’t just finish at the end – well, you’re just giving back what was given to you.”
When Meg was diagnosed with breast cancer 33 years ago, there was little if any structured patient support available near her home in Dorrigo, northern New South Wales.
Like other cancer patients in her community, Meg, who is now 84, was required to travel long distances for treatment and, once that was completed, felt isolated and disconnected from specialist medical advice and support services.
“It made me see how cancer patients in rural areas really struggled,” she says. “You didn’t get help as far as transport was concerned and you had to travel to the nearest point: an hour-and-a-half away in our case. As one lady said to me, when you finished your chemotherapy, you were losing a comfort blanket because all the support was there.”
She also saw first-hand how stressful cancer treatment and recovery was for family members, particularly after her late husband, Garth, was also diagnosed with cancer.
“My youngest son will tell you he would get on the bus of a morning to come to school and he’d get off at a mate’s place and cry in his mate’s mum’s arms because he just couldn’t cope,” she says.
Meg, who has been treated successfully for breast and bowel cancer, immediately resolved to improve support for other cancer patients in rural areas. She became involved in Daffodil Day, the Cancer Council’s long-running annual fundraising appeal, 30 years ago, before training to become a “breast buddy”, a community member with personal experience of breast cancer who offers support and practical help to women with breast cancer.
“It meant there was always someone there. It was like someone holding out a hand, someone who could say, ‘I’ve been there and this is my experience’.”
Over more than three decades working for her community, Meg has also volunteered as a Pink Lady hospital volunteer, a local organiser of Cancer Council’s annual fundraiser, Relay for Life, and as a “silent visitor”, supporting people who have a terminal illness.
She says access to treatment and support for cancer patients in the Dorrigo area has improved significantly since she was diagnosed 33 years ago. But she remains determined to help others, aware of how valuable her own experiences can be.
“Emotional support is just as important as the physical treatment,” she says. “When I go for my annual mammogram now, nine times out of 10 the [radiographer] girls will say to me, ‘I wish I could keep you here, just to be able to say to someone who comes in, “There is a life after breast cancer”’.”
EDITED, SUBBED AND FACT-CHECKED: 16/7/19