Three cancers in 20 years - a woman's gratitude for a service which started over a cup of coffee
'I have learnt to take life day by day'
Twenty years ago, Dolores Azzopardi walked into a dark room at the end of a long corridor, was injected with chemotherapy while standing up and was suddenly overcome by a deep sense of helplessness.
Two decades and two cancer comebacks later, she nowadays feels as if the doctors and nurses have not left her side for one moment and looks forward to every cycle because it is a step closer to remission.
“When I was first diagnosed, I had no idea what breast cancer was. The only thing I was told is that whatever needed to be done will be done. I was traumatised.”
Ms Azzopardi was not briefed about what the mastectomy and ensuing chemotherapy process involved. The 62-year-old believes that back then, it was the thought of seeing her six children grow up that helped her pull through.
Ten years later she was told that the cancer had spread in the area around her clavicle and last August she received the news for the third time – this time it was around her lung area.
Whether I remain alive or not is out of my hands – what happens in between is up to me
“The first thing the doctor told me was: ‘We will not leave you alone’. His words and disposition gave me so much confidence that I had already started feeling better without having started treatment.”
Following her diagnosis, she met Abigail Camenzuli and Elysia-Elle Ronayne, who are specialised in chemotherapy care.
Through the in-house Aurora Support service, the two nurses brief newly diagnosed patients about the treatment process.
The briefing is not detailed so as not to pile pressure on the patients, who are then invited for a pre-chemotherapy class where they are informed about possible side effects and after-care.
Patients are usually accompanied by relatives and close friends, who can then even keep in touch with the nurses on Facebook.
The Aurora support managed to lift the morale of the relatives who were with Ms Azzopardi when she was diagnosed.
Despite it being her third diagnosis, this was the first time that Ms Azzopardi truly understood the process that she was going to go through.
“I feel so much better nowadays… I no longer think ‘uffa I’m going to hospital for chemo’ and I have learnt to take life day by day. Whether I remain alive or not is out of my hands – what happens in between is up to me,” Ms Azzopardi said.
Two concerned nurses and a cup of coffee
Aurora, which turns five this December, knows its beginning over a cup of coffee, when two nurses poured out their concern about diagnosed patients who thought they were going to the oncology hospital for ‘a simple injection’.
Back then they decided to brief some patients about the chemotherapy process and its aftereffects, but Ms Camenzuli and Ms Ronayne soon realised it was unfair on those who were missing out on the briefing.
So, inspired by the Macmillan Cancer Support charity, they collected all the information that patients are bombarded with into a booklet approved by oncologists themselves.
But again, they felt that this was not enough, so they started organising weekly classes. Initially, only around three people turned up, and sometimes none at all. But the best promotion about the service was word-of-mouth and the classes continued to grow.
Nowadays around 15 newly diagnosed patients who need chemotherapy turn up every week, accompanied by their relatives.
Ms Ronayne noted that despite feeling psychologically drained after each class, the transformation they notice in the patients when they first step into the class and when they leave the room fills the two nurses with enthusiasm for the following session.
They make it a point to be by the patients’ side during the first cycle, ensuring that all their paperwork is in order, their questions answered and they have all the necessary medicine at home.
Aurora can be contacted on email@example.com , 7900 0495 2545 2486. More information on the Facebook page, Aurora Support Service. A digital version of the one-hour classes has been produced for those who cannot attend Aurora’s sessions at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre or have difficulty following the publications.
Christmas is not the jolliest of times for all
“We just broke the news to someone that not even chemotherapy is going to save him. How can you call that the jolly season,” Ms Camenzuli asked.
For some at the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre, the festive season only serves as a reminder of better, happier times.
Some sarcastically comment that their cancer treatment is their Christmas gift, while others say that Christmas has been cancelled for the year.
“Sometimes there are no comforting words – all we can do is show them that we are reachable and listen to them. No one should face cancer alone, so we urge patients to get in touch with someone to speak to them. Ask for help and allow people to be there for you and support you,” Ms Camenzuli noted.”