From student placement to patient – Vivienne’s cancer journey

Icon Writers / 30 Jan, 2023

When Vivienne completed a three-week student nurse placement at Icon Cancer Centre Maroochydore in 2021, she hoped to one day return in a professional capacity.

She never dreamt she would return as a patient.

Vivienne, who has a blended family of five children with her partner, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in September 2022.

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“Initially it was a huge shock and I had a big cry,” says Vivienne.

“I thought the worst and wondered what would happen to my children if I died. When you hear the word cancer, you think death.

“But I didn’t realise how far cancer treatments have come and how effective they are.

“Even though I was studying to become a nurse, I didn’t realise the incredible advancements in cancer care. I soon realised my kids would be fine, as I was going to beat the cancer.”

Vivienne takes a selfie while getting treatment.
Vivienne takes a selfie while getting treatment.

In the lead-up to Vivienne’s diagnosis, she had regular pap smears.

“My pap smear results were normal, but I had worrying symptoms,” says Vivienne.

“I was experiencing clear fluid discharge. At the time, I was told it could be incontinence and I went to see a pelvic floor specialist. But I knew it wasn’t urine, so I begged to be sent for an ultrasound.”

From there, a polyp was discovered, initially thought to be benign. But when Vivienne insisted the polyp be removed, it was discovered it was in fact, cancerous.

“I knew something wasn’t right, so I’m glad I chose to have the polyp removed,” says Vivienne.

Since September, Vivienne has undergone 25 radiation therapy sessions at Icon Cancer Centre Maroochydore under radiation oncologist, Dr Joanne Castelli. She also had brachytherapy and chemotherapy in Brisbane.

“The team at Icon Maroochydore are fantastic. Joanne Castelli made me feel so comfortable and put me at ease,” says Vivienne.

“It was also wonderful to have the support of Laura, the cancer care co-ordinator. I would email her random questions and she was onto it straight away.

“Laura helped me to access the additional support I needed to get through my chemoradiation treatment.”

Vivienne, who moved from South Africa to Australia ten years ago, says having a good support network helped her get through the hardest parts of her cancer treatments.

Since starting an Instagram page to update family and friends on her cancer journey, Vivienne has connected with others who have been through or are currently battling cancer.

She offers the following advice to people recently diagnosed with cancer.

Vivienne visiting the beautiful Australian bush.
Vivienne visiting the beautiful Australian bush.

“Find a good support system. Having people around you who know what you are going through cannot be underestimated. I found mine on Instagram and it made a real difference for me.

“If you are well enough, try to keep active. Even if it’s a 10-minute walk, try to keep moving.

“I fell into the trap of not being as active as I used to be and it’s taken a lot for me to regain my strength.”

With her treatment behind her, the 40-year-old is now looking forward to life post-cancer.

Vivienne, who took time away from her studies during her cancer treatment, is working towards becoming a registered nurse.

“I will finish my studies at the end of this year and I will be a better nurse thanks to my own experience with cancer,” says Vivienne.

“It has also made me appreciate my children that little bit more. I’ve always loved and cared for them, but I appreciate them a little more now and I don’t sweat the small stuff.”

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