Cancer survivors discuss the importance of speaking to others during treatment

SUPPORT OTHERS: Glen and Joyce Mertens are both highly dedicated members of the BCSG. Picture: GLENN DANIELS
SUPPORT OTHERS: Glen and Joyce Mertens are both highly dedicated members of the BCSG. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

To receive a cancer diagnosis is not on anyone’s Christmas wishlist.

However, for Bendigo man Glen Mertens, 87, this is exactly what happened in 2009, and now eight years later he can look back as a proud and determined survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Glen’s approach to cancer was very simple when he received the news of his initial diagnosis.

“This is something that’s happened, let’s get on and deal with it,” he said.

Testament to his experience with cancer was the opportunity of becoming a member of the Bendigo Cancer Support Group (BCSG), where Glen and others were able to receive invaluable support as they underwent treatment.

At the group’s monthly meetings Glen and his wife Joyce are able to connect with others that are going through a relative experience, which he attributes to be a major part in the success of defeating cancer.

“Just talk to people and let them know that you’re living a life and trust the people that are treating you,” he said.

The support group provides a foundation for individuals that are living with a cancer diagnosis or that know somebody that’s going through the experience, it’s a place to socialise, network and share stories.

The group also has frequent guest speakers who cover a range of topics related to cancer and other matters associated with medicine.

While undergoing treatment at the Peter MacCallum Bendigo Radiotherapy Centre, Glen and Joyce attended a meeting with guest speakers from the BCSG that provided information about the program.

After this encounter they were influenced to join and haven’t looked back since, still attending meetings despite Glen’s cancer going into complete remission.

“Your attitude does count for a great deal, your mental state has a lot to do with your physical state, if you feel positive it helps,” he said.

Each experience is unique to the sufferer, so the group provides support to patients at any stage of their diagnosis, with many members that have overcome cancer still in attendance at meetings to provide support to others.

Just talk to people and let them know that you're living a life and trust the people that are treating you.

Glen Mertens

Cancer treatment has many stages and approaches.

Some include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, alternative therapies or possibly a combination of approaches.

In Glen’s case, it included a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

In total he underwent eight chemotherapy treatments which started a few days after Christmas Day in 2009 and then additional radiotherapy five days per week for an entire month.

The only side-effects Glen experienced post-chemotherapy is peripheral neuropathy which is “a great big flash term for numb fingers and toes”.

“Sometimes I go to pick something up and it doesn’t quite feel right,” he said.

“A lot of people have a lot more after effects from all the treatments.”

“The radiotherapy made me feel more washed out than the chemotherapy.”

Despite the ongoing side-effects he’s still dedicated to his hobby of assembling small scale model airplanes and cars, which he also uses a laptop for to find the correct specifications and paint configurations.

Some of his models have taken upwards of 12 months to complete, made more difficult by his side effects. However, Glen is determined to keep building them.

Another hobby is tending to his extensive self-sufficient fruit and vegetable garden that includes grapefruit, asparagus, pumpkin, zucchini, broccoli – just to name a few.

The cancer diagnosis didn’t prevent him from maintaining their beloved garden where he and Joyce “grow most of our veggies”.

The BCSG has evolved from much more than a support group that meets in a medical setting, members also meet frequently for a social pub meal at one of Bendigo’s many bistros.

One of the those is veteran member Wendy Price, 71, who is a 13-year non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor.

“When I was diagnosed in 2004 there was no cancer group as such,” she said.

Along with Cath Harwood, Wendy was determined to get a local support group operating.

“The idea arouse to get a pamphlet out to promote the group, which would go out to doctor’s groups and waiting rooms.”

Initially the response rate was low. However, good things take time.

Since its birth, Wendy has been directly involved with the group and has “taken it on as my baby”, especially after Cath Harwood passed away.

“Cath was a marvelous worker who put her heart and soul into the group,” she said.

“The group kept her going, we both loved being involved. It’s something I can stick my claws into, it’s a passion, I keep it going for Cath.”

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor Aaron Tan, 52, also has nothing but praise for the support he received from others at the BCSG.

“People at the BCSG have provided such amazing support, the most amazing ever,” he said.

Aaron shares an optimistic outlook about cancer and how it can change a person during the treatment and after it has concluded.

“When you finish the treatment, that’s it, that’s when life starts.” 

If you would like more information on the Bendigo Cancer Support Group visit www.bendigocancersupport.com.au or call (03) 5454 9251.