It was a change to the skin in her cleavage that prompted Geraldton hairdresser Stacey Keeffe to go to her GP.

After several courses of antibiotics, four ultrasounds and multiple return visits, she was eventually sent for a mammogram which led to a diagnosis of stage two breast cancer.

“I continued to return to the doctor because I knew something was not right,” Ms Keeffe said.

Even then, the news came as a shock for the 37-year-old.

“It is like your world stops all of a sudden,” she said.

It was good medicine that, almost two years on, has seen her declared cancer free.

But Ms Keeffe said her whole life was affected by the rounds of treatment and recovery.

“It is not just cancer that hits when you get a diagnosis, it is all these other things, these practical things that you suddenly have to sort out,” she said.

At the opening of the Cancer Council WA’s new Midwest centre, Ms Keeffe told those present she had attended cancer fund-raisers in the past but had not given much thought to what the organisation did.

Grateful for practical support

Almost two years after her cancer diagnosis she was fully aware of the extent of the Cancer Council’s support.

“I was able to borrow some turbans when I lost all my hair, I was having massages when I was having treatment,” Ms Keeffe said.

She stayed at the not-for-profit’s Crawford Lodge in Perth and when the COVID lockdown hit on the eve of her first radiation treatment, Foodbank stepped in to offer grocery deliveries to the lodge.

The Cancer Council Midwest branch was previously based at Geraldton Regional Hospital but this week opened on Marine Terrace near the CBD.

A woman in a white shirt stands at a lectern speaking.
Support officer April Kalajzich provides practical support to those diagnosed with cancer. (

ABC Midwest Wheatbelt: Cecile O’Connor

)

Regional city cancer gap

“It is quite frightening that one of the reasons we are focusing on regional work is that we know there are worse cancer outcomes between regional people and people in the metro area,” Cancer Council WA CEO Ashley Reid said.

“Unfortunately, there is often delays in diagnosis and treatment whether it is through accessibility or not participating in screening.”

He said regional cancer patients report higher out of pocket expenses during their treatment and recovery.

“A cancer diagnosis is difficult enough, but if you are in the regions and have to travel to Perth for treatment for example, being away from your community, away from your family it makes things much more difficult,” Mr Reid said.

The new centre, which is staffed by an education officer and cancer support worker, helps with practical support and information.

Ms Keeffe has endured a lot in two years including a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but has now started returning to work.

Her hair is growing back and is now dyed pink and she has a lasting gratitude to the people who helped her along the way.

“Just knowing you had this extended support network, I am so grateful,” Ms Keeffe said.



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By EDONS