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Devastatingly, Jo McKenzie-McLean’s life was turned upside down with a stage 4 bowel cancer diagnosis.
“I was really worried about the kids and what I was going to say to them. I desperately needed to talk to someone. Thankfully my oncologist connected me up with Marie at the Cancer Society.”
“Every day, 71 New Zealanders will find out they have cancer. No one should face cancer alone. With the demand for the Cancer Society’s services increasing, support is needed more than ever”, says Dr Rachael Hart, chief executive of the Cancer Society, Otago and Southland Division.
Jo went to her doctor for a scan but didn’t meet the criteria. Jo was crippled over in pain. Jo’s mum took her to another doctor, and Jo finally got her CT scan.
Waiting for a result was awful, but finally, the doctor said, “I’m sorry there is something wrong. You’ve got bowel cancer, and it’s spread to your liver.”
Jo was horrified: “Is it terminal?"
“It doesn’t look good,” her doctor replied.
Jo immediately needed to get a massive tumour that was blocking her bowel removed.
"I couldn’t stop thinking about my children and thinking I’m going to die. I was so consumed with fear for my kids.”
Jo’s surgery was successful but complex. The tumour had broken through into blood vessels, lymph nodes and the bowel wall.
"I desperately needed to talk to someone. Thankfully my oncologist connected me up with Marie at the Cancer Society.
“Marie is amazing. We really connected and we’ve become close. When I’ve been upset, I get help from her. She was able to give me much-needed hope by reminding me there are many people who can beat cancer or live longer than expected."
Living with cancer
“My daughter said to me, 'You’re going to die!'
"I said, 'We know people who have survived cancer. We’re going to hit this with all the medicines we can and fight this'.”
From being fit, healthy, and outdoorsy to feeling fatigued and needing help to get dressed or being driven, cancer has hugely impacted Jo’s sense of identity. This is a very common but sadly overlooked effect of having cancer.
“I look in the mirror and start crying. I don’t recognise myself. I used to go bike riding with my kids and play ball, and now I can’t. I sit and fall asleep. It’s hard to stay positive. When my body is failing me. Cancer is just robbing me of time. I feel disconnected from the world.”
Jo felt overwhelmed by everything; “When you’re embroiled in this nightmare, the little things become so hard. Marie has made a huge difference in my life and has picked up that load for me. She listens to what I need and helps facilitate those things to happen – nothing is a problem for her, she just goes above and beyond.
“Stage four cancer, as I understand, is incurable: it’s in my lungs and bloodstream, on top of the tumours. I’m going to keep going with the different cancer medications for as long as I can.
"There are success stories. I’m living until I die.
“With the Cancer Society, you’ve got someone fighting in your corner. When your voice feels weak, when you’re at your worst, and when you’re feeling alone and need some company for conversation or more practical help.
“I’m extremely grateful for the support I’m receiving through the Cancer Society because it’s a lonely journey, and it has been made easier by family, friends, and Marie. I’m very grateful for her.”