Cancer women still waiting for radiotherapy
By Alex Easton
HAVING breast cancer didn't have to change Lynda Seed's life.
Had the Lismore Base Hospital been equipped with a radiotherapy unit when she was diagnosed six years ago, Lynda's encounter with breast cancer would have been nothing more than a small, if slightly dramatic, footnote in the story of her life.
But Lismore didn't have a radiotherapy unit and the choice offered to Lynda drive herself, ill and tired, across the Burringbar Range from Lismore to the Gold Coast every day for six weeks, while caring for her 13-year-old son; or have the infected breast removed was no choice at all.
Lynda has talked about her experience with cancer as The Northern Star and the Northern Rivers community begin a new push to have radiotherapy services introduced to the region.
Strong backing is coming from Regional Community Watch, the Country Women's Association, and the Rural Doctors' Association, with others likely to follow.
With the Federal Government threatening to put the unit into a private facility unless the State Government commits to it soon, the campaign aims to secure a projected start and finish date for Stage Two of the Lismore Base Hospital redevelopment, which consists of a radiotherapy unit as part of a new cancer care unit.
Lynda said when she was diagnosed there was no room for anger, resentment or second guessing in the decision to have her breast removed: The need for her to act was just too overwhelming.
That all came in the years which followed, as she tackled major surgery to have her breast rebuilt and as she struggles with the side effects of chemotherapy.
"It all happened so quickly," Lynda said. "They found the lump at one of the (biannual) checks on a Friday and by the next Friday I'd had the operation.
"I saw the surgeon on the Tuesday and he said it was totally my choice; to have the lump cut out or to take the whole breast. He gave me videos to watch."
The lumpectomy would have to be backed up with daily radiotherapy treatments at John Flynn Hospital at the Gold Coast for six weeks. A full mastectomy could be followed up with chemotherapy in Lismore.
"There were a lot of factors," she said. "I'd just separated, Daniel (her youngest son) was just 13, and I didn't have anyone to drive me. It was before the new road was put through, so I'd have to drive an hour-and-a-half each way for a treatment that lasted five minutes.
"Even as a healthy person, to drive three hours a day, five days a week, would have knocked me around.
"I pretty quickly decided to go with chemo."
Having caught the cancer early, Lynda managed to clear it from her body and has had no recurrences since the initial operation six years ago.
But that decision, and the impact of the initial operation and the chemotherapy that followed, have dogged her every day since.
"Having the chemo really knocked about my immune system and now I have food allergies that I didn't have before," she said.
Lynda also decided later to have a breast reconstruction, which required repeated trips to the Gold Coast and major surgery that she says was worse than the original mastectomy.
Lynda is not the sort to focus on regrets. Since the operation she has eschewed support groups, preferring to just get back to her job and her life.
However, when she reflects on her decision to have a mastectomy and the reasons for it, she says she is struck by the unfairness of it.
Even worse is the knowledge that, faced with the same decision today, under the same circumstances, she would have no option but to make the same choice. Even with the support to make the daily trips to the Gold Coast, it would be hard.
"It's extremely frustrating," she said.
"It's so difficult; it's the whole extended family that would be affected. If you have kids and it's the father who has to do the driving he can't go to work and he's not there for the kids. It's just not fair.
"Removing a lump and having radiotherapy sounds so incredibly simple."