In March 2018, not even a year after the birth of her 4th daughter, 27-year-old Laura was diagnosed cancer. She was given half a days’ notice to be in Sydney some 470km away.

Her initial surgery was brutal “they had to cut through my back, all the way across to my left breast. My ribs were cracked, and my lungs deflated… after 6 weeks in hospital in Sydney it took another 6 months recovery at home before I could walk again.” Laura Grabbo

Not getting the results they wanted, doctors administered some three different types of chemotherapy over the following three years. Each round was delivered in Sydney, meaning Laura had to travel and accommodate in Sydney every couple of months for several nights at a time.

Laura’s from Boggabri, a small town in north-east NSW

After a year off treatment in order to regain some strength, Laura re commenced oral chemotherapy from home this year. Her side effects have been extreme; nausea, memory loss, vertigo, blurred vision, migraines and sores that don’t heal. Laura’s feet are red raw with multiple blisters.

Not surprisingly, her husband Codie stopped work some time ago – not only to look after their four children (now 11, 9, 7 and 6) but also his wife. Laura’s mum is not far away in Gunnedah and she has been “a constant help… mum goes without so much for my sake.” Laura Grabbo

It was Laura’s mum who first told her about Can Assist all those years ago. “Can Assist has been there since the beginning … Chris Pullman, Client Liaison Officer, Can Assist Gunnedah is such a support to me …someone I can talk to, she calls in and we have coffee together, she is my rock.”

Can Assist has helped Laura’s family with a range of expenses including new tyres, car registrations, Coles vouchers, washing and dryer machine repairs, and out of pocket specialist consults.

As with all our clients – we remain a support until the cancer is beat.

“Laura is a kind and courageous woman and I am so grateful for the friendship we have developed. Had it not been for Can Assist, I never would have had the privilege of knowing her.” Chris Pullman, Client Liaison Officer, Can Assist Gunnedah

At just 41 years of age Bernie, father of 4 children under 10 and husband of Samantha, was diagnosed with brain cancer.

It all started back in 2017 with bad headaches. After multiple trips to Griffith Base Hospital (70km one way), it was the local doctor who ordered the cat scan that identified an urgent need for further investigation. – Additional scans conducted at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital (170km one way) revealed a brain tumor, so Bernie was rushed to Sydney (630km one way) via air ambulance. Surgery took place the next day.

The rollercoaster continued; 8 weeks of radiotherapy, followed by regular trips back to Sydney; initially every month, then every 2 months, and then tapering off to twice annually. A second tumor was identified at the end of 2021 and a third tumor at the end of 2022. Another surgery, another two sets of radiotherapy – all conducted in Sydney, almost 7 hours away from his hometown.

Bernie receiving treatment at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.


With the exception of the two surgeries Bernie needed to source non-hospital accommodation in Sydney on every trip.

Distance from treatment magnifies the impact of cancer on every level – financially, physically and psychologically.

“Sam (Bernie’s wife) and Izzy (youngest daughter) stayed with me in Sydney over my first surgery…but by the time of my second surgery all the kids were at school and, with my income being so unpredictable Sam needed to go back to work. It was just so daunting; I didn’t know what to ask the doctors and I didn’t remember all the details, especially when it came to the side effects. The costs were piling up – huge out of pockets with radiotherapy, scans costing near $1,000 each time, then travel and accommodation.

“Can Assist have been supporting me from the early days and they took away that initial financial burden …they were the first to help, took away those pain points early, it just meant so much to me. Having the support of my community through Can Assist goes way beyond the dollars …it was like they were in it with me” Bernie Star, Coleambally

Can Assist continues to support Bernie. “Cancer isn’t a one stop fix and nor are we …. we continue to support our clients for as long as they need usSue Hardy, President and Patient Liaison Officer, Can Assist Coleambally

Bernie and his family today, still smiling, but it’s been a long road.

Just two days before his 6th birthday Alex was diagnosed with ALL Leukemia.

It all started with a sore knee.  Incorrect diagnoses and consequent ineffective treatments saw Alex awake one morning screaming in pain. Alex and his family were at his grandma’s house in Tumbarumba that morning from where he was taken by ambulance to the nearest regional hospital in Wagga Wagga (113 km away).

Alex's Story

Alex being transferred from Tumbarumba Hospital to Wagga Wagga Base Hospital. December 2021

After an initial 6 week stay at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital treating a suspected bone infection, Alex was transferred to the Sydney Children’s Hospital (280km from home). Some 2 months later a biopsy revealed Alex was suffering from Leukemia. It was nearly 12 months since his initial symptoms.

Alex commenced what would be his first of 4 chemo rounds 3 days later.

First insertion of the chemotherapy port, March 2022

It would take about another 10 months to complete the intravenous course of chemotherapy, which was punctuated by pneumonia, long COVID, a serious fungal infection, neutropenia, vomiting and diarrhoea. Alex would finally return home 4 days before Christmas.

May 2022. Alex had not long completed his first round of chemo and steroid treatment. He needed help breathing since his oxygen levels were too low.

August 2022.  Alex has completed his 3rd chemo round. Whilst he was supposed to go home for 10 days after this, 4 hours after arriving in Bungendore he was admitted to Canberra Hospital and promptly flown back to Sydney.

September 2022. Back in Sydney. Alex’s fungal infection was spreading; to his pelvis, liver, lungs and spleen; high temperatures and night sweats.

Alex makes it home Christmas Eve to be with his little sister Maddie. December 2022.

Alex is now receiving oral chemotherapy which he can take at home in Bungendore. The many trips continue back and forth to hospital – but for now that’s only a 40km trip. “Any temp above 38 degrees and we are right back at hospital, but taking the distance out of the picture makes it all so much easier to handle, apart from taking the extra costs off the table it allows all of us to be near our support networks which brings just a little bit of normality back into our lives” Brittany Melhuish, Alex’s Mum.

“Cancer takes its toll on everyone. Maddy was only 3 years old when Alex was diagnosed, there was a 3 month stretch over COVID when she couldn’t see Alex at all. Mum, Maddy and I all lived in a 1-bedroom apartment in Sydney over the course of Alex’s treatment. Since I had to stop work Alastair (Alex’s Dad) had to keep working. He drove back and forth every weekend to be with us. In the earlier months, I was able to draw on my holiday leave but when that dried up the extra expenses became very difficult to manage; there were the accommodation out of pockets (over IPTAAS), everyday expenses, the petrol for all those trips…. even the parking was $30 a day. Another charity referred me to Can Assist – who I had never heard of before.”

“On calling Can Assist, the person I spoke to could help me almost straight away, Ann was so lovely, warm and comforting and put me immediately at ease. I felt very supported by Can Assist, right from the beginning. To have their help with my accommodation out of pockets and some every day expenses was just amazing.”

February 2023. Alex smiles through it all. His first day back at school, with no appetite at all he is nourished via a feeding tube.

April 2023.  Easter weekend. Alex doing well, feeding tube gone and a big smile from Mum, Dad and little sister.

By March 2024, Alex will no longer be considered immune suppressed. He will turn 8 that month. Monitoring will continue for another 6 months or so – but the finish line is in view.

Can Assist remains available to help …cancer is a journey, and we walk alongside you until – the finish line is crossed.

After experiencing symptoms that resembled low blood sugar, Jon from Cootamundra suffered a seizure and was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Over the course of the next 18 months, Jon endured 2 separate surgeries (both in Sydney which is around 800km return), 2 separate bouts of radiotherapy (one in Sydney and one in Wagga Wagga), and a course of chemotherapy. Jon and Dani traveled more than 8,000km in trips back and forth to Sydney and many hundreds more back and forth to Wagga Wagga. In addition, they were required to fund around 10 weeks of accommodation in Sydney.

Not only did Jon stop working, but so too did his wife Dani, who has been his carer. The financial impacts were devastating. With no income coming in, bills quickly added up. It was then they met Colleen – the treasurer of the local Can Assist Cootamundra branch. The family had never heard of IPTAAS (the NSW government-funded travel and accommodation subsidy scheme), had not collected any of the appropriate signatures nor had they retained any receipts. Whilst Can Assist helped them to lodge the government claim, there were many excess bills left over to pay. Can Assist provided multiple petrol vouchers, paid for their accommodation in Sydney, and contributed toward multiple out-of-pocket medical expenses; both for treatments and pharmaceuticals.

Being an ex-pat from California, Jon says – “In the States, being self-employed, this tumor could have been a death sentence” and further that “If it were not for Can Assist, we would have needed to sell our house to afford treatment…. we can’t thank Can Assist enough”

At 58yrs of age, Leonie – mother of two and retired primary school teacher from Leeton, was diagnosed with melanoma. She had mistaken a mark on her face for a minor irritation, and with it taking 3-4 weeks to get an appointment with the local GP, Leonie let it slide. One day, feeling so unwell, she took herself to the local hospital on a completely unrelated matter and it was there that the medical staff noticed the mark and booked her in for a biopsy the next day.

After diagnosis, Leonie was initially referred to a skin specialist in Griffith (120km return), who advised her that she would need surgery in Melbourne and, that she would need to find her own accommodation since surgery would be performed on an outpatient basis. She would have to book a hotel within walking distance of the clinic, and she need a carer 24/7. Her surgery to remove the cancer along with a required plastic surgeon would be done in a private clinic which would cost Leonie some $4,000. With only $2,000 in savings, Leonie burst into tears.

Before surgery, Leonie was required to undergo 6 weeks of chemotherapy treatment at home in Leeton and it was over this time that she heard about Can Assist Leeton. She met Mary – the local Can Assist President who assured her of their financial support and “most importantly, listened,” said Leonie.

Leonie made two separate trips to Melbourne (some 1,000km return) and spent some 8 nights in commercial accommodation.  Can Assist paid the bill.

Back in Leeton, she would make multiple trips back and forth to Griffith over the next couple of years and just when she thought she was out of the woods, the cancer returned. From here, Leonie would need to undergo daily radiotherapy over a 4-week cycle at Wagga Wagga. Whilst this treatment was considerably closer at only 250km return, it would be too much for Leonie to drive back and forth every day. Can Assist Leeton stepped in again. First, they funded the transport costs of getting her to Wagga, and then they made it possible for her to stay at Lilier Lodge (a not-for-profit accommodation facility, part-owned and operated by Can Assist) by funding her out-of-pocket costs over the NSW government accommodation subsidy scheme for isolated patients (IPTAAS).

“I literally would not have been able to afford access to treatment. My only alternative would have been to borrow money and who would lend a pensioner that sort of money? The only possibility would have been a Centrelink Advance Payment of $1500 which would have entailed a forced payback of $100 a fortnight on my pension. After bills, that $100 would have come out of my food money, it has all been so stressful. I will be forever grateful Can Assist and to Lilier Lodge for their help and compassion” Leonie James

Leonie is back at home now, well, and excited about the future ahead of her.

Lyn Pauling, 68 yrs., wife of Steve, Mother of 4 adult children, and grandmother to 8. Lyn was born and bred in Leeton.

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, skin cancer, near 10,000km of driving, 2 months of hotel accommodation and many more months of treatment was not only emotionally exhausting but financially crippling.

When first diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Lyn was flown to St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney for immediate treatment. Sydney became home for Lyn for the next three months. Steve drove back and forth to Sydney (1,100 kms return per trip) multiple times over this period and spent several weeks in various Sydney accommodation facilities.

Upon returning to Leeton, Lyn would need to undergo chemotherapy treatment in Griffith (120km return per trip) where she would continue going twice a week every 8 weeks for the next two years.

But that was not the end of the story, several months ago, Lyn received a second cancer diagnosis -skin cancer this time. Back to Sydney for more surgery; more travel and more accommodation costs.

Next was radiotherapy at the Cancer Centre in Wagga and unlike her public hospital treatments in metropolitan Sydney, she would incur medical out of pockets. The RCCC required an upfront payment every two weeks for radiotherapy treatment – over $1,000 each time. Whilst Medicare provided a rebate, significant gaps remained. Over this period, Lyn stayed at the not-for-profit accommodation facility – Lilier Lodge, which is part-owned and managed by Can Assist. It was here that Lyn first became acquainted with Can Assist.

By now, Lyn was left thousands of dollars out of pocket over the course of her treatments. To make matters worse, given his repeated time off work, her husband had lost his building job and has never actually found full-time work again.

Can Assist Leeton stepped in – they would pay Lyn’s medical out of pockets, her out-of-pocket accommodation costs for the full 5 weeks stay in Wagga Wagga and they would issue her with multiple petrol vouchers. Without this assistance, Lyn would have been forced to drive back and forth daily, some 250 km, sick and exhausted. Lyn talks with fond memories of her time at Lilier – “It’s so much more than a bed; we had volunteers driving us to treatment, providing group dinners, education, exercise classes…. but most of all it was a safe haven; a family of people all going through the same thing. Lilier and Can Assist made it all so much easier, I will be forever grateful “

Luke Di Salvia, a teacher from Leeton was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 44 yrs. With time off work for surgery and 6 cycles of chemo the bills quickly added up. Luke contacted Can Assist Leeton to help!

“Whilst many things we take for granted scream to a halt during cancer treatment much of the mundane daily grind continues on unabated; there’s still plenty of bills to pay, cars to maintain, dishes to wash, lawns to mow, and kids to feed and clothe. Thankfully Leeton Can Assist were there in the background helping out by easing the burden of unexpected costs, thereby lessening our collective worries and thus helping me to more easily focus on getting better.“

“My second round of chemo fell in early January and so coincided with the Christmas school holidays. With the invaluable assistance of Leeton Can Assist we were able to stay at Lilier Lodge Wagga for my 5 successive days of treatment. Not only did this equate to a massive saving in travel time and cumulative rounds trips of over a thousand kilometres, it gave us a much needed chance to do plenty of fun activities with the kids and take their minds off the fears and uncertainty that comes with their Dad still in the early days of his cancer battle. Whilst I underwent my daily treatments the wife and kids did fun holiday stuff – went to the movies, laser tag, trampolining and shopping, with a central base, only 5 minutes from the Cancer Care Centre and Wagga CBD to return to at the end of the day. For this opportunity, afforded by Leeton Can Assist, we are forever grateful.“


5yr old Tommy from Glen Innes woke up one morning very pale and with notable bruising; his Mum took him straight to the doctor. That same afternoon, he was flown to John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle and was diagnosed with Leukemia.

This was the beginning of a whirlwind for the Gill family – Mum, Dad and 2 younger siblings who were only 3yr and 6 months respectively at the time. Including various stays in hospital, Tommy, his two younger siblings and Mum accommodated at nearby Ronald MacDonald House for 12 months whilst treatment continued.

Initially, both parents stopped working, but needing to maintain a family income Lincoln would eventually return to work. From then on, he would make the 860 km, 11-hour return journey to Newcastle each weekend to be with his family.

After Tommy returned home, he developed a lung infection, and he was again flown back to Newcastle where he spent a further 1 month in hospital (half of which was in ICU).

After all the heartache, Tommy now has now been given a clean bill of health, and a 3rd sibling – baby Clare.

The Gills travelled well in excess of 50,000 km over the course of Tommy’s treatment: around 150 trips in total. “I couldn’t put a number on what we spent…. then there was the time off work and all the extra travel, we could not have got through it without the help of charities like Can Assist who provided us with multiple travel vouchers” Sam Gill, mother of Tommy.

I had heard about Can Assist through other people around my home town of Tumut, and previously seen and bought raffle tickets from street stalls to aid local fundraisers.

I didn’t imagine that I would ever need their help but when I was diagnosed with breast cancer after only recently being separated from my husband, I found myself in a very stressful situation with very limited funds. I required any assistance I could possibly get and the local Tumut Can Assist branch helped me with fuel vouchers, utility bill assistance and medication payments after surgery.

While I was staying in Wagga Wagga for treatment, the local branch there also assisted with frozen meals for my son and myself.
I know of no other organisations who assist with everyday costs when diagnosed with cancer.

My diagnosis meant that I had a mastectomy, along with radiation therapy. From the day I received the results I was shocked. It felt surreal, like I was watching myself from above and everything was not really happening to me. After surgery I cried for the first two weeks, when I was finally brave enough to look down and accept the loss of my breast, I did so and decided that I could face anything now that the worst was over.

With the mastectomy and radiation, my treatment program was around eight weeks. Radiation therapy was around five weeks, yet with Christmas & New Year holidays, it turned out to be six weeks.

I am the first in my family to have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I had always thought that it more of a hereditary situation, which is probably why I was so shocked, there had been no breast cancer in my family.

All assistance was very helpful, the fuel vouchers and medication payment saved me money that I could put towards medical expenses. Having the frozen meals being paid meant that after surgery when I was tired and sore meant that I did not have to cook and clean. The accommodation payment was so beneficial, as it meant that I could stay in Wagga Wagga during the treatment. Radiation therapy left me very tired and drained, had I had to drive each day I would have been a danger on the road not only to myself but other as well.

I am still to this day receiving help with fuel from Can Assist, as I have commenced hormone treatment, which will continue for the next seven to ten years, and I have regular visits with an Oncologist.

When Can Assist offered to help me financially I was relieved, travelling, along with medical expenses cost a small fortune. If I had not received help from Can Assist then my only alternative

Would have been to borrow the money or not have treatment. As it was, I did have to borrow money to cover medical expenses as Medicare did not cover some procedures.

My lasting impression of assistance given by Can Assist was that there are still kind, generous and caring people in the world. That includes people who gave or donated money or items to the organisation. My faith in society has been renewed.

The assistance given by Can Assist enabled me to ensure that my son and I had a somewhat normal Christmas and prior to that his Birthday in October. Had I not received assistance I would not have been able to give my son anything. The ladies from my local branch are very caring, understanding, and professional. They are a gift from God!

Thanking you so much, from a very appreciative cancer survivor.

Margie Crane


As a friend of Can Assist I know that you are very familiar with the work we do, I wanted to share my story with you to highlight our ongoing need for assistance, which is even more important today than it was when Can Assist started 63 years ago.

Can Assist was well known to me as both my mum and dad received assistance from the Can Assist West Wyalong Branch during their time in need. Sadly, Mum passed away from pancreatic cancer 10 years ago. Fortunately, Dad got through prostate cancer. Not only were Can Assist great supporting both Mum and Dad in their time of need but my parents also used the great facility Lilier lodge which saved them travelling from West Wyalong every day and allowed them to be close to their hospital to receive treatment in Wagga Wagga.

My own personal cancer journey started when I was living in Temora seven years ago as I was driving past the blood bank and thought I’d donate some blood. To my dismay, the preliminary test found my iron levels were alarmingly low and they would not let me out of there unless I went straight to the doctor who immediately sent me for a colonoscopy. As soon as I woke up, I was told I had bowel cancer. Numb is how I felt. My first question was, “okay what are we going to do about it?”

I was sent to surgeon based in Wagga Wagga who informed me he was going to remove most of my bowel. We also discovered I had a heredity cancer ‘Lynch Syndrome’ passed down from my mother’s family as mum was on a cancer register.

As I had to travel from to Wagga Wagga for treatment, the Can Assist Temora Branch offered a range of services to me, assisted me with fuel vouchers, and organised transport around town ensuring that I could get to my hospital appointments comfortably and with little stress.

I had to have eight weeks off work to complete my course of treatment and Can Assist Temora Branch were fantastic in supporting me during this time, keeping in constant contact to see if there was anything I needed and providing me with peace of mind during a very anxious period. As a father of three boys, I needed all the help I could get and the support I got form Can Assist was a great relief. I now have a colonoscopy every 12 months and am still in the clear thankfully.

I moved to Wagga Wagga six years ago. In August 2017, Bradley, the youngest of my three sons was diagnosed with bowel cancer, aged 20. The cancer was removed but after more scans it was discovered there was more cancer in the bowel plus his liver. He has just finished six months of chemotherapy. We are not sure where to from here, more scans will decide. He has also found out he has Lynch Syndrome, an inherited disorder that increases the risk of many types of cancer.

In trying to find help for Bradley I discovered there was no Can Assist branch in Wagga Wagga. I couldn’t believe it so I decided to see what I could do about it. I sent an email to Can Assist enquiring about the lack of a branch in Wagga Wagga and I soon received a response.

Wheels were set in motion, and following a media onslaught, we called an inaugural meeting for the end of October. We organised guest speakers, the past Can Assist Board President, current Can Assist CEO and the president from the Gundagai branch. All we needed were people to turn up and they did so, about 50 in total and with an executive committee voted in we were set to go.

Wagga Wagga Can Assist now meets on the first Monday of the month at Lilier lodge, with a good turn up to meetings however more volunteers are always needed. The more hands the lighter the workload. We only expect people to do what they can and give as much time as they can afford. We have a fundraising committee and welfare committee. We are getting there, we are all new at this and Rome wasn’t built in a day. We are helping people with cancer and that’s why we are doing what we are.

I need to thank everybody that made this happen, pulled strings, gave time, loaned venues and provided advice. Fortunately, Can Assist has been there for me throughout my life, ensuring my parents, myself and now my son have assistance when they need it the most.

I am very happy to provide my time to such a worthy cause that ensures very dollar given locally is handed out to those who need it locally. Since it was established in 1955, more than 55 Can Assist rural and regional branches run entirely by over 3,000 volunteers across NSW proudly hand out financial assistance every day to people in their local community. I urge you to support today, no amount is too small. The financial assistance Can Assist provides is immeasurable and it can only continue with your help.

Thank you.

John Nixon
President Wagga Wagga Can Assist

*Sadly, Bradley lost his fight with cancer in March 2019. His father, John, and his brothers remain committed to the Can Assist Wagga Wagga branch and continue to volunteer to help those in their local community.

Can Assist is grateful to Bradley and to the whole Nixon family, for sharing their most personal experiences in order to raise awareness and assist others.

Bradley Nixon