“You don’t look like you’ve got cancer."
It’s something Nicole Bradley hears often. The energetic mum from Matamata is proof that cancer is indiscriminate.
The Cancer Society’s Lions Lodge is Nicole’s home for six weeks while she receives treatment for cervical cancer at Waikato Hospital.
While at the Lodge, Nicole doesn’t have to worry about making the 125km round trip to Hamilton every weekday for treatment. Accommodation and meals are free. More importantly, Nicole gets mutual support from other guests who are on their own journey through cancer treatment.
Nicole was taking time out before starting her dream job at Sport Waikato when she realised she was due to have a cervical smear test.
But something wasn’t right. A referral to a gynaecologist in February confirmed the worst – a four-centimetre tumour on Nicole’s cervix.
“I struggled a lot with my diagnosis. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want to be a burden. I’m the one that normally helps everyone. I’m the one that’s always strong.”
The Bradley family is well-known in Matamata. Busy mum Nicole visits Matamata Piako schools to promote healthy eating and physical activity in her role as a Sport Waikato Energizer. Before that, she owned a local gym and was a personal trainer for 20 years. Husband Alex owns a plumbing business following a career in rugby playing for Waikato and the Chiefs.
After her diagnosis, Nicole realised she’d need to take time for herself.
“I’m really good at putting everyone else first, and I thought, I need to concentrate on myself and get well. I need to be in a place I can do that without any distractions.”
The Lodge ensures people living in communities across our region can access the treatment they need without having to worry about accommodation and meals while they get well. In many cases a support person can be provided with accommodation too.
Although it primarily caters to people who live more than 80km from Hamilton, the Lodge opens its doors whenever possible to people like Nicole, who live closer but are still impacted by the daily journey to treatment over many weeks.
“I don’t think I’d have the energy to travel every day and stay positive and in good spirits.”
Staying at the Lodge ensures Nicole has the best opportunity to get well.
“For some people there’s a lot of stress at home. But when they’re here, they can just concentrate on getting better. They can go and have a sleep when they want. They don’t have to worry about meals. There’s a shuttle that drops them right outside the hospital for treatment.”
“Hearing other people’s stories and how their treatment is going is so important for healing – to know you’re not going through this alone. Even though everyone’s situation is different, we’re all experiencing some of the same kinds of things.
“I’ve met some amazing people and their families. And the Lodge staff and volunteers – nothing is ever too much trouble. It’s such an amazing place to be if you ever go through anything like this.”
Despite Nicole’s postive outlook, she’s the first to admit the journey isn’t easy. Her treatment plan is intense - seven hours’ chemotherapy on Monday followed by daily radiation therapy. Brachytherapy – internal radiation therapy – will be added to her regime during the final weeks of treatment.
“I miss being at home with the kids, but it’s for such a short time and I need it. I have to focus on myself and get well. This is the place where I can do that.”
Accommodation costs shouldn’t be a barrier to receiving life-saving treatment far from home
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