2018 symbolises a fresh start for Don Morris.
The Palmerston North native welcomes in the new year cancer free, ready to run his first half-marathon and eagerly awaiting the completion of a new house in Tauranga, the city he and his wife Shirley now call home.
A year and a half ago, things couldn’t have been more different for the couple.
In July 2016, Don was given the devastating news that the cancer he had been fighting for a year had grown – and there was nothing more doctors could do to help him.
“I’d been told my cancer was too advanced for further treatment, and I felt like there was no hope. It never occurred to me that there would be a change in that diagnosis and it’s fair to say I wasn’t in the best place emotionally. I knew I needed help, but I wasn’t sure what was available or how to access it.”
Don and Shirley made the decision to move cities to be closer to family for what time he had left.
“Once we decided to move and be nearer to our children and grandchildren, our house went on the market and sold within a week. Before I knew it, I was in a new city, seeing new doctors and specialists.
Living in Tauranga with a new GP and oncologist, Don had further scans which led to trips to Auckland for two surgeries to remove the cancer in his lungs. Against all odds, he recovered.
Although he was well researched and felt he had a good understanding of his cancer and operations, Don says he struggled to get his head around the depression and anxiety that came with his diagnosis and the “unknown”.
In 2017, Don contacted the Cancer Society.
“All I did was walk into the local office and have a chat about the help they might be able to give me. From there, everything felt easier."
"The Cancer Society are the experts and they know how to take the lead. Their expertise and experience kicks in as soon as you walk in the door. Everything they do, they do with such care, compassion and helpfulness.”
From the outset, Don felt welcomed and supported by Cancer Society liaison nurses Angelique Ensor and Tammy Burgess, who were able to provide him and Shirley with advice, practical support and opportunities to meet others going through their own cancer journeys.
“Angelique and Tammy were always in touch with me, making sure I was staying on top of my appointments and getting the help I needed. The thing is, you don’t know what you don’t know, and having people around you to guide you through everything from new medical jargon to ideas about ways you can carry on doing the things you love, is invaluable. It helps you feel a semblance of normality, so you can get through each day.”
One such thing for Don is regular exercise, outside in the fresh air. Always fit and active, he has been able to continue running throughout most of his cancer treatment. Joining the Walk for Wellness - a walking group facilitated by the Cancer Society in conjunction with other community organisations - provided additional unexpected benefits.
“Staying fit is a focus for me. It’s one thing I’ve been particularly determined about since I was initially diagnosed, and I really enjoy the walking group because it’s been a great way for me to make sure I get out every week and meet other people affected by cancer, develop friendships, and get support in a casual environment.”
“We try to walk up or around the Mount every week and then as a group we sit down and meet over a coffee afterwards. Angelique is always with us, providing encouragement and answering any questions that come up – there are a lot of different things we talk about because everyone is on their own cancer journey.”
Don also actively participates in a monthly Cancer Society support group. Asked what his number one piece of advice would be to someone hesitant about asking for help, or for someone wanting to support a loved one with cancer, he suggests taking a small step and going along to a similar meeting.
“For me, the hardest part of moving to a new city has been developing friendships and creating a network of people that you can support, and who support you. The local support group that I’ve joined has given me those things and I can’t thank them enough for it.”
The ultimate aim, says Don, is to find a balance between staying positive and getting on with life, and knowing what kind of help you need, and when you need it.
“If you feel you, or someone around you, needs support just reach out to the Cancer Society – that’s all you have to do."
"What makes people like Angelique and the team so good and so useful is that they pick up what point in your journey you’re at before you do and help find the right help for you, whether it be talking with a psychologist or learning about hats and wigs that you might want while going through treatment, or just going along to a meeting of like-minded people for a chat.”
“We all need help, and we all go through tough times. But all the things the Cancer Society has done for me help to remember that every day is a good day, it’s just that some are better than others.”