When a cancer diagnosis turns someone’s world upside down, supportive care nurse Tammy Burgess is there, walking alongside them and their family during some of their hardest moments.
Families like Bronya Clare and her son Oliver, aged nine, from Tauranga.
Tammy first met Bronya in 2015 when she was referred to the Cancer Society after doctors found a tumour in her bowel. Despite years of health problems, the diagnosis was a shock.
“I don’t remember much from the first few days. Because it was the holidays, I was by myself. Everyone I knew was out of town, so it was nice to have someone to talk to about what was going on.
Some of those things included frozen meals that kept son Oliver well fed when Bronya was too tired and unwell to cook and eat herself. And massage therapy, which provided much-needed pain relief.
“I would book in for a massage on days when I had something important I needed to do, so I didn’t have to cancel because I was too sore or swollen.”
But it was the simple advice from Tammy that Bronya often remembers most, like the suggestion she buy a pair of gloves to handle chilled food after chemotherapy, which left her hands painfully sensitive.
“The advice was a big one; the ideas to help cope with what was coming. I’m a planner so having a heads up about what was coming next and knowing about some of the things that could help was really useful.”
Tammy’s calm and practical approach helped her get through the months of treatment that followed — including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Support from Tammy meant Bronya didn't have to come up with all the answers herself.
Last year, Bronya reached out to Tammy again.
“It’s big this time. I get upset when I think about Oliver. He’s struggling, so most of my focus is on him. When I’m awake and have energy, I make the most of it. And I’m more selfish. I put Oliver and myself first, above everything else.”
Whether it’s taking Oliver to see Star Wars or a trip to Rainbow Springs, Bronya knows she can’t afford to miss out on spending quality time with her son whenever she can.
Bronya is sharing her story because she wants to make sure anyone who needs advice, information or a listening ear can seek help from a supportive care nurse.
“I would have been in the dark about so many things. Having to get hold of a doctor to ask a question when you don’t have an appointment is near impossible. And when you have an appointment, often you don’t know what you need to ask.
Every day, 65 Kiwis are diagnosed with cancer. With support from the community, our nurses are there to provide support when it’s needed most. Donate today by visiting cancernz.org.nz/donate