At 65 years old, Liz Claridge was ready to simplify life and enjoy retirement in Whangamata with her partner of 20 years, Wayne “Monty” Montgomery.
The couple had bought a bus which Wayne was converting into a campervan and they were looking forward to “tiki touring” around the country before they received news that turned everything upside down: Liz had cancer.
“I didn’t see it coming – there was no lump because it was so deep in the tissue,” said Liz, whose breast cancer was discovered when she went for a mammogram the same week she retired.
The surgery and radiation therapy that followed was successful, and Liz was home after completing her treatment two days before Christmas in 2016.
But her relief wasn’t to last long.
In 2017, Wayne went to get a hernia seen to and when doctors looked at the scan, they discovered a large mass in his stomach.
Tests revealed he had grade four lymphoma, which needed to be treated aggressively with chemotherapy if he was to have any chance of survival.
“It was a complete shock; up until that point he had been so healthy – he’d never so much as taken a disprin,” said Liz.
“We lost the plot with the shock of it all happening at once; we didn’t know what the future held and struggled to come to terms with everything.”
It was at this point that they turned to the Cancer Society for help.
Supportive care nurse Penny Parsons recommended that the couple attend Cancer Society funded counselling to help them deal with the stress they were going through – something Liz says was invaluable.
“We had kind of shut off from everything. It helped us go through the process of understanding that how we felt was normal.”
The Cancer Society’s Lions Lodge in Hamilton was another help for the couple during this time. Liz and Wayne were both able to stay at the accommodation facility when they were undergoing treatment at Waikato Hospital.
“I keep promoting the Lodge to everyone I talk to because it was just amazing,” says Liz. “Everything about it was so comforting and friendly; we met a lot of people who we still keep in touch with. I think it was part of the healing process, talking to other people who spoke so openly about their cancer experiences.”
Now back at home in Whangamata, Liz and Wayne are taking every day as it comes.
They attend the local Cancer Society support group, and Liz has recently signed up to become a Cancer Society volunteer, hoping to use her experience to help others facing a cancer diagnosis.
“Positivity plays a big part in it. There have been a lot of challenges mentally and physically, but there’s no dwelling on it; we try to turn negatives into positives,” says Liz, who is taking time to enjoy the little things like pottering in the garden and spending time with her grandson.
And while the campervan still hasn’t been used, Liz is hopeful that it will get an outing soon.
The Cancer Society offers free support services for people with all types of cancer, as well as their whānau and carers. To talk to us about how we can help, give us a call on 0800 22 77 44.