Strength, perseverance and dogged determination are just some of the words you would use to describe 36-year-old and mother of one, Neata Wombwell, following her experience with cancer.
A late diagnosis of a tumour in her right leg, eleven years and two operations after she had first felt the lump, meant that the treatment for Neata’s cancer would be daily and intense.
An extremely high dose of radiation was given to Neata every day for six weeks resulting in all the skin melting off her lower leg and thigh. It would take nurses an hour every day to dress her leg following the radiation. “I was asked on numerous occasions throughout the treatment whether I wanted to stop for a rest as the treatment was so severe. I knew though that I couldn’t, the cancer had been in my system for so long and I needed to endure it to give me the best possible outcome,” she says.
With her son Jack’s second birthday looming, Neata was unable to walk by the end of her treatment and often confined to a wheelchair with horrific pain. Despite this, she put a smile on her face and carried on as normal not wanting Jack to sense or remember any of the experiences she was having.
Stories like Neata’s are not unusual for the liaison nurses at the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Cancer Society.
“People come to us at differing stages of their cancer journey,” says liaison nurse Tammy Burgess. “When people are first diagnosed there is often a number of weeks before they can start treatment, this is a very scary time for a lot of people and they normally have a lot of questions. We help them to navigate this time, attending medical appointments if needed and offering them a range of support options.
“Once people begin treatment, we provide one-on-one support, frozen meals, counselling, massage, transport and anything else they or their whanau may require to get them through. At the end of treatment our support remains constant but the focus changes. We offer programmes that assist people to live well following cancer treatment and help them to manage the physical and emotional effects of coming through cancer treatment which often stay with people for life.”
For Neata, support from the Cancer Society came a little later than most. Following her treatment and now well on the way to recovery, Neata unexpectedly lost consciousness while driving resulting in a major car accident. The suspected seizure was put down to the stress Neata’s body had been exposed to throughout her cancer treatment. Her license was removed for a year which was a major blow when juggling a now three year old son and running a household. She knew that she needed help and so when one of the nurses at the hospital mentioned the Cancer Society she eagerly reached out.
“The relationship I formed with my support nurse, Tammy, was invaluable,” Neata says. “What began as a chat has turned into a relationship that I can turn to when life is overwhelming and provides someone outside of my family that I can lean on. I have talked, laughed and cried with Tammy, she has referred me to support groups, massage for my lymphedema and arranged transport to the support group when I couldn’t drive after I lost my license. She invited me to the Living Well programme which gave me tools that I needed for living my life after cancer treatment."
"The Cancer Society welcomed me, made me feel that I wasn’t alone, introduced me to people going through similar experiences and became instrumental in my entire recovery.”
Today, Neata can’t sit or stand for long periods and her leg is rock hard to touch due to the intense amount of radiation she received. Her hamstring is permanently damaged and this muscle no longer moves. She can go for short gentle walks with Jack but lives with swelling for days afterwards. She has to attend six-monthly scans but can now call herself cancer free, something she is eternally grateful for.
“When you look at what I’ve been though you would say that it has been the worst years of my life, but it has also been the best because I raised my son over this time too. It has taken its toll both physically and emotionally but I’m on the other side now and pregnant with another son who is due in September this year. Life is generally good, but when it isn’t I turn to the Cancer Society and get the support I need to help me through.”