An inconvenient journey

  • YWCA Encore Facilitator Wendy Stuart and Roley the Champion, Alice Springs.
    YWCA Encore Facilitator Wendy Stuart and Roley the Champion, Alice Springs.

Alice Springs resident Wendy Stuart quit her job of 12 years and was two weeks into her year-long road trip around Australia with her dog Roley the Champion when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

‘How inconvenient,’ she thought. ‘An operation might slow up my plans.’

Unfortunately for Wendy and Roley, this turned out to be just one of a number of inconveniences. Doctors discovered several large tumours and the disease had spread into her lymph nodes. Her treatment started with a double mastectomy at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, followed by chemotherapy in Alice Springs and, more recently, radiation treatment in Adelaide. A rough road to travel in itself.

Her journey around Australia may have been interrupted, but Wendy decided she was going to take control of this ‘inconvenience’. She immediately changed her lifestyle. She started exercising ferociously, gave up coffee, sugar, red meat, dairy and alcohol. She began intermittent fasting. And, while she wasn’t sure if this would help in her battle against cancer or the side effects of treatment, she wanted to take back some of the control the cancer had taken from her.

She learned that being active during chemo was one of the best ways to minimise its side effects. She took up African dance classes, but felt silly dancing with a bald head. She found an exercise program for medical recovery, but that didn’t give her the challenge she needed. So, when friends asked what they could do to help, Wendy suggested walking. Seven wonderful friends organised a schedule of morning walks – one for every day of the week!

Wendy was determined to make the most of every opportunity. While in Adelaide for six weeks of radiation, instead of staying in the medical hotel, Wendy opted to stay in an Airbnb in the hills where she could walk the trails with Roley and an old friend who lived nearby. The daily drive to the city for treatment was made pleasant with visits to the Central Markets and Chinatown. On weekends, she went to the beach and visited friends further afield.

While life is not all rosy for Wendy, 12 months post-surgery she is feeling more like her old self. Her hair and nails have grown back; her skin and eyes are no longer sun sensitive. She’s liking her flat chest and she continues (mostly!) her new dietary regime. She weighs almost 10 kilos less and feels healthier and fitter than she did before diagnosis.

Her life’s journey, just like her trip around Australia, took a hairpin bend that despite the challenges – especially those presented by remote living – has opened the door for her to help others in a similar situation. Wendy is now one of two YWCA Encore facilitators in Alice Springs delivering a free exercise and information program for women who have experienced breast cancer, so that they can regain mobility, flexibility and self-confidence.

Wendy is so glad to be able to bring this amazing program to her local community. ‘It’s specifically designed for women who have had breast cancer surgery. It is actually better than what I was looking for!’

Although remote living can present challenges when facing a medical ordeal like cancer, Wendy is very grateful to live in Alice Springs. She praises the breast care nurse and fantastic staff at the Alice Springs Hospital chemo ward. She also feels blessed to have great supportive friends, immediate access to nature, a positive outlook and her loyal friend, Roley the Champion.

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