For many people diagnosed with cancer, there’s an inkling in the beginning that something’s not right. But that wasn’t the case for 37-year-old Colleen Wood.
“I suppose my story is a little different,” says Colleen. “We were having fertility treatment. I found out I had endometrial cancer when we were called to come in for test results.
“I didn’t expect the news, but who expects cancer?
“It was just devastating. I heard the word cancer and I thought gosh, I’m so young. I’ve got a family. How did this happen?”
The busy mum and full-time office manager from Tauranga struggled with the news. Decisions were made quickly, especially after it was discovered her cancer had progressed further than first thought.
“I found it very difficult to comprehend what was happening at the beginning, and I didn’t ask the right questions. But what questions are you meant to ask?”
On the advice of her nurse at the hospital, Colleen reached out to the Cancer Society. Supportive care nurse Tammy Burgess answered the call for help. Tammy was able to talk through Colleen’s options and help her feel more in control of her treatment.
“Tammy made me feel comfortable. She came to my house - and that for me is a safe zone. She was someone I could talk to about anything, and not just about cancer, not just about my diagnosis.
“The pain, the niggles, the what-ifs. When you’re with your doctor sometimes there’s so much information and because you’re in shock you can’t remember it all.”
With her dad also facing health difficulties, Colleen says it wasn’t always easy to talk frankly with family about what she was going through, so having someone else to talk to was invaluable.
“Telling my Mum and Dad I had cancer was one of the hardest things I had to do.
“I didn’t want to worry my family any more than they already were. So being able to talk through things with someone who’s not family was so helpful.
“The waiting is so tough. When you’re going through treatment, there’s a lot of waiting. Your mind can take you to dark places. Talking with Tammy helped me cope with those times.”
And it wasn’t just support from Tammy that helped. Tammy was able to connect Colleen with online groups where she could talk with other young women going through similar experiences.
One thing Colleen says she’s learned is that it’s important to reach out with both hands and grab whatever support you can.
That meant leaning on Tammy for information and support, and connecting with cancer survivors to share experiences. It also meant letting her family share some of the burden too.
“We lost my Dad just after my first surgery. For me there were lots of big things happening. I have cancer. I can’t have more children and my Dad is dying. Cancer on its own was hard enough to hear.
“I was mindful my Mum was grieving my Dad. So initially I kept her in the dark about a lot of things.
“But there came a time when mum needed to become involved. By then, I had a plan. I knew how we were going to treat this and beat this. I could tell her some positive news.”
After eight months of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, Colleen finished treatment in January this year.
“I definitely appreciate every day. Sometimes, it’s the small things - my daughter’s smile, my husband making a joke - those are the things that I watch more closely for now and appreciate.”