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On 30th August 2023, 61-year-old Kathleen Siemionow received a clean bill of health. For the Leeton resident, who has endured several cancer diagnoses over the years, her most recent experience with melanoma was made more bearable with the care and support of her local Can Assist branch, who she had been reluctant to ask for help.

“There is always someone worse off … I hadn’t wanted to ask. But, as a pensioner with two child dependents, I bit the bullet and called. Mary from the Leeton branch came out to see me in my home, she was really beautiful with me — made me feel so at ease,” says Kathleen, or Kathy, as she is better known. 

“Can Assist has helped me out with doctors bills, pharmacy accounts and accommodation out-of-pockets. I was just stunned. What these people do is amazing!”

Over the course of her five months of treatment, Kathy made bi-monthly visits to Sydney, which involved one to two days of appointments each time, and a six-hour drive one way. As the primary carer for two of her grandchildren, aged nine and 16 (pictured), the distance and time away was a heavy burden for her.

“I had to get home as soon as I could, my granddaughter would really fret when I was not with her … there were a lot more logistics to consider since I was no longer living in Sydney,” she says. 

Kathy with her beloved granddaughters while undergoing cancer treatment.

Formerly from Liverpool in Sydney, Kathy is grateful to have had long-time friend, Kaz, to lean on during her treatment for melanoma: “Kaz was such a rock for me, she was so very kind to me and the girls — I don’t know what I would have done without her.”

Kathy (right) and Kaz (left), her ‘rock’ during cancer treatment.

Reflecting on her experience, Kathy recalls it all started with a visit to her GP because she was in a lot of pain. After a series of scans in Griffith, she was eventually diagnosed with Stage 3 Melanoma in her lymph nodes, requiring two separate rounds of immunotherapy in Sydney followed by an operation in mid-July this year. 

Kathy says she was able to use every bit of strength to keep up the fight thanks to Can Assist: “I don’t know how cancer patients from the country manage without Can Assist.”

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.