During National Carers Week, WomenCan recognises and thanks the caregivers who bravely share their very personal stories with students across Australia and New Zealand as part of ANZGOG’s Survivors Teaching Students (STS) program. STS gives caregivers a platform to engage with the next generation of health professionals to help them understand the significant impact of a gynaecological cancer diagnosis on family members and the critical importance of good health communication, support, and compassionate care.
We extend gratitude to caregivers like David, who play a vital role in ANZGOG’s Survivors Teaching Students program. David and his wife Sonya (who was diagnosed with gyneacological cancer) share their perspectives in heartwarming interview, stories such as theirs empower the next generation of health professionals.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role as a caregiver in the Survivors Teaching Students (STS) program?
I am a Registered Nurse by trade and husband to my wife Sonya who was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2021. I only became involved with STS earlier this year and felt that I could contribute in the education of young doctors. As a medical professional, I have witnessed some medical professionals lose the ability to really empathise with patients. This is not a criticism, but I feel that it comes with repetition in their field of expertise. Any opportunity I have, I will endeavour to remind people of the medical and non-medical effects such a devasting diagnosis can have on an individual. I was lucky enough to explain the effects my family experienced with Sonya’s diagnosis at a presentation to student doctors earlier this year.
What inspired you to get involved in the STS program, and how long have you been a part of the Tasmanian team of volunteers?
I only became involved earlier this year but had heard all about it from my wife Sonya who clearly got a lot out of it. I was inspired by the opportunity to convey a first-hand experience of the effects that such a diagnosis can have on family and friends. I was certainly inspired by my wife, who, with all she had going on in her life, still saw opportunities to improve services for patients like her.
I have been a part of the STS program about 2-3 years. When you are given a terminal diagnosis, it turns your world upside down. Often you feel like a passenger on a bus with no control over what happens to you next. I felt that by being part of STS I do could something positive from a very negative situation. By sharing my story with the student medical staff, I hope I am making a difference for other cancer patients. If by hearing my story this means that even one doctor learns something from it then I have done something good. It can be cathartic but also exhausting emotionally however worth it because I hope its making a difference.
What does it mean to you that David is involved in the STS program sharing his story alongside you?
I am hoping that by David joining and presenting with me that it's helpful for him to share his story and helpful to the medical staff to understand that we are real people and it is not just the disease that needs to be treated. There are often lots of other life-changing effects that cancer causes to families.
Sharing your story with strangers is difficult and can be very raw and emotional. When we present together, I feel sad that it has such an emotional effect on my husband and makes me realise what a huge support he is, I don’t know how I would have managed without him. His story is told from a completely different side of what we have been through. I think I learned just how hard it’s been for him by hearing David present.
Why is it important for the next generation of medical and nursing students to hear the stories of caregivers as part of the STS program? What response have you had from the students when you shared your story?
Rightly or wrongly, I see two areas of a cancer diagnosis. Firstly, there is the medical area. This includes all the interactions a patient will have with anyone in the healthcare setting. From doctors, nurses, radiographers, food services, GPs, etc. Then there are the social aspects of a patient. This includes every other aspect of their life that doesn’t involve the medical setting. There is a clear separation but there shouldn’t be. I have learned that there is a lot more going on in a person’s life than what is presented in the medical setting. STS is a great opportunity to bridge this gap and this especially includes the psychological aspects of the patient’s care.
I think it's extremely important, I have listed below some of the issues that had such a huge effect on me during treatment and diagnosis. If we can make a difference to the next person going through this horrible process, then it’s all worth it.
Sometimes medical staff need to be reminded about the human side of treating people and to be kind.
- Please remember above the neck. My mental health suffered greatly through my treatment process, no one asked me how I was coping mentally. It was pretty much ignored.
- Choose your words (as my mother would say), please be kind, I understand that it's not nice news that you are often delivering to patients and it's difficult to make it sound anything but bad however try to do it with kindness and some tact.
- Explain – the health system is complex and hard to navigate, I was fortunate as my husband is a registered nurse so he was able to assist me. For people who don’t know their way around it you need to explain where they can find extra help and support.
- Remember we are human and have a life where other people love and depend on us, think of how you might feel if it was you on the other side of the desk.
Learn more about STS
When you or a loved one join ANZGOG's STS program, you contribute to spreading vital information that holds the potential to save someone's life.
Act now and make a difference that matters.