Written by Jodie Preiss…


Susan Palmer

Posted 08 Jan 2019 - 5.2 minute read

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2018, and for the first week after hearing the words, it seemed to just all be a dream. It was almost five weeks since I’d first felt a lump, that then disappeared. Four weeks since the mammogram and ultrasound. Three weeks since the biopsy that had confirmed DCIS (pre-cancerous cells) in my left breast.

So I’d had the moments of panic many weeks prior, and had then relaxed somewhat when I was told that I was dealing with pre-cancerous cells in my left breast, and that my right breast was clear. However, my breast surgeons recommendation was for the pre-cancerous cells to be removed, so she scheduled an MRI to determine exactly how large the area of DCIS was. It was the breast MRI that showed an area in the right breast that warranted further investigation.

So there I was, in mid-April, hearing the results of the biopsy on my right breast and those dreaded words – this one is positive for breast cancer.

We were going away two days later, and I’m sure that the week on the Gold Coast helped to have this all feel like a bit of a dream. Life went on, and we had a great time attending various events at the Commonwealth Games and enjoying the autumn warmth that had already disappeared from Melbourne.

How were you impacted by what happened?

Once we were back home, the barrage of further tests took over. Including, for the first time, surgery, to remove the sentinel nodes to determine whether the cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes. And the bigger surgery was scheduled – a bi-lateral mastectomy with DIEP flap reconstruction (basically using my stomach tissue for the reconstruction).

At that point it was anticipated that I would have the mastectomy and reconstruction and no further treatment would be required. It wasn’t until after the surgery that everything became much bigger, and was going to therefore also have a much bigger impact on our life.

Once I was home from hospital post surgery, I was seeing my plastic surgeon two or three times per week – not so easy when I was not allowed to drive for the first six weeks. In the first week post surgery that was fine, as my husband had the week off work. However once he went back to work, it became a little more challenging to get to my appointments that were 30 minutes drive away.

What was the most difficult challenge about keeping your life going?

At this point I had also not told a lot of people about my situation – just close friends and family – so I had a limited pool of people to ask, and was sending a text message to them all each time I had an appointment to work out how I was going to get there.

One day I was completely stuck, and so put a request up on Facebook that went something along the line of “I have to get to this appointment at this time, and I can’t drive at the moment. Is there anyone who can help out?”

I had lots of people offer their help – some could do one direction and not the other, some could do a slightly different time. So I coordinated it all and got to my appointment. But it made me realise that I needed to find a better way, as not only was that stressful, it also took up a lot of time, both mine and those who had offered help.

How did you find out about Gather My Crew?

Several weeks earlier a friend of mine had sent me the link for Gather My Crew, so I knew that it was time to log on, and see what this was all about.

When I had first started coordinating my appointments myself, I thought that I was dealing with a few weeks of appointments. But the pathology results from the breast tissue and lymph nodes indicated that further treatment was required, so I knew that I would not be dealing with several months of appointments I would need help getting to and from.

I thought I’d test out Gather My Crew and see whether it would be the answer to my needs. I added my upcoming appointments, and sent around a text message to the friends who had been helping out already to see if they were happy to be added as my crew. And so, with just 4 or 5 crew members, I was able to get this working, and straight away I had my appointments for the next several weeks all sorted. I even added in a few grocery times in there, even after I started driving again, as I wasn’t able to push a full trolley, or carry the bags – so that took the pressure off my husband needing to do our weekly groceries, and gave me time with a friend each week.

How has Gather My Crew helped you?

When I made the decision to “go public” with my breast cancer to my wider circle of friends on Facebook I had some friends contacting me asking how they could help. Using Gather My Crew made managing that so easy – I could tell them about the website and ask if they wanted to be added as one of my crew members. Many said yes, and my crew grew to about 10 members.

What I loved is that a couple of friends I wouldn’t have even thought of asking for help, have become my best crew members – helping out on multiple occasions. Yet I only had to ask them once.

Has Gather My Crew changed the way that you asked for, received and coordinated help?

I am very independent in nature, and so find it really hard to ask for help – especially over and over again. Gather My Crew took the responsibility of that out of my hands, and made it so easy for me to co-ordinate my needs. It also means that none of my crew ever have to say no to me, which I know I would find hard if someone was asking me to help and I just couldn’t manage it at that time.