A breast cancer survivor who understands first-hand the financial and emotional burden women face after being diagnosed is using her own experience and journey to help others.
Speaking to Moreton Daily to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Wendy was a young woman and a single mother when she received the devastating news she had breast cancer in 2008 – and her life was turned upside down.
“When I went through my breast cancer journey with my friend Barb, I found women spend a lot of time in waiting rooms,” Wendy says.
“We met lots of other women - many who had travelled long distances to get there - and by talking to them we found many were falling through the cracks.”
Wendy felt it was a lack of communication between her care team, such as GPs, chemo specialists and other medical professionals, which added to the stress and anxiety women were already feeling.
Scared they were not going to make it, Wendy and Barb decided if they did survive, they would dedicate their time to helping other women.
They created Be Uplifted - a not-for-profit charity that raises money to provide practical care and financial assistance to breast cancer patients, survivors and their families during treatments.
Based in the Brisbane suburb of Boondall, some of the support services Be Uplifted provide include counselling, art therapy, Zen exercise classes, hairdressing services, house cleaning, food deliveries, crocheted knockers - which are external prostheses that provide the look and shape of a breast - as well as arranging transport to treatment, donating drain bags to local hospitals for lumpectomy and mastectomy patients, and providing breast cancer resources and information.
They also offer individual financial assistance and will help cancer patients pay for practical everyday items such as medications, medical tests, food, electricity and phone bills, so families can still be in touch and supportive even if it’s from a long distance.
“I try and be there for the women when they need me,” Wendy explains.
Fossick through the op shops
Be Uplifted have two op shops, one in Boondall and the other at Strathpine, selling a huge range of quality second-hand clothing, retro and vintage fashions, as well as second-hand books, bric-a-brac and handmade giftware.
The shops are an opportunity for people to find some great bargains, as well as a chance for women to reach out, find more resources and ask for help.
Volunteers run the stores, and more are always needed. If you can help, click here.
Thoughtful care hampers
Wendy, and the other volunteers from Be Uplifted, ensure every woman who reaches out for help feels loved by providing them with “We Care” hampers.
All the “We Care” hampers are specially packed by volunteers with the needs of a breast cancer patient in mind.
Inside the baskets are items such as face washers, toiletries, cosmetic bags, a notebook, a packet of handmade cards and a soft teddy.
The organisation also likes to hand out quilts and provide a space where women can come and make their own.
Reducing anxiety through art
Another way Be Uplifted helps women take their minds off their diagnosis and treatment is by delivering art workshops.
These are hosted by Maureen Wise (pictured above), who runs Paint ‘n’ Sip workshops, art classes and coaching.
“I will do a painting and then I will show the women how to paint the picture step by step,” Maureen explains.
“This is a wonderful way for the women to get together and engage with one another.
“A lot of them don’t get time to just sit and talk, so the art then becomes secondary almost, but by the same token, because it is a very mindful thing to do, they can also zone out if they wish and just relax and let everything go.”
Maureen has not had breast cancer, but enjoys providing a fun activity for the women to participate in.
“I haven’t been on any breast cancer journey myself, so for me coming in, it was such an eye opener to listen to their stories and the conversation.”
A lifeline for women
Survivor Anna Deac from Taigum (pictured above) reached out to Be Uplifted following her diagnosis in September 2020.
“I was 48 and never had any health issues and never had cancer in the family,” Anna says.
“I didn’t know anything about cancer, so I never thought it would happen to me.
“My tumour was quite big. I went for my first mammogram in Chermside and then they called me back for my first ultrasound and told me I would have to have a biopsy done.
“Doctors said it was only 3.8cm but when I had my lumpectomy, it was actually 5.8cm.”
Anna also underwent a mastectomy and chemo because “a tumour over 5cm is classified as high risk”.
Recently, Anna and her husband celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, and feeling a little self-conscious about her date, she received a haircut and style courtesy of Be Uplifted.
There in times of need
Elizabeth Isakka from Dakabin (pictured above) has had breast cancer three times, having first been diagnosed in 1990.
Elizabeth describes Wendy as a “Fairy Godmother” who helped her during her time of need.
“Wendy helped me pay some bills, and when I needed some new shoes, she gave me a voucher to buy some.”
Early detection is key
These women are sharing their stories to help make other women more aware of breast cancer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which runs until Monday, October 31.
According to the Cancer Council Queensland website, one in eight Queensland women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and one in 41 women will die from the disease.
Early detection remains one of the most important factors in improving survival rates.
Women of all ages are being urged to check for lumps and ensure they are up to date with their recommended screenings.
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