Stories from our friends

 Julie Pope

Julie Pope

“My cancer journey started when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in Nov 2010.

What followed was a mastectomy and removal of some lymph nodes under my arm. I had months of chemo and five weeks of radiation therapy, and during my treatment, the Wairarapa Cancer Society was very supportive.  I attended a Look Good Feel Better workshop hosted by the Cancer Society Wairarapa, and it was very useful in helping me to cope with my changed image. 

The Cancer Society were great because they provided me with support when I developed lymphoedema in my arm and the Support Nurse assessed me and referred me to a specialist lymphoedema physiotherapist at Wairarapa DHB who fitted me with a compression sleeve. One of my passions is now finding out ways to manage lymphoedema if you live in the Wairarapa.  Alongside the supportive care coordinator at Cancer Society, I have recently started a new group at the Centre supporting those with lymphoedema.

Cancer Society Wairarapa offers a wide range of services such as therapies, transport to treatment and peer to peer support such as cancer connect and local support groups etc.

The Wairarapa  Centre offers a one-stop shop approach to breast cancer management in that I had pre-surgical support and information, and post-surgical support with fittings for prosthesis and bras and ongoing symptomatic education and support by a nurse into survivorship. 

I also attended a course at the Cancer Society which was held over four weeks called Life After Breast Cancer, and I found that very informative and I met others on a similar journey.”

I was fortunate that I have family in both the Wairarapa and Wellington, but it was very reassuring knowing help was there if I needed it by volunteer drivers. It was an easy decision becoming a volunteer going forward because I am grateful for the support I got on this journey from patient to a survivor from Cancer Society Wairarapa. I give back because I can, and helping with support groups and as a volunteer at Relay for Life in 2017 enabled me to do just that and to see how far I have come on this journey.”

Thank- you Julie for sharing your story with us.


cecily lrg2

Cecily May-Guarrera

Originally from South Africa, Cecily came to Kiwi shores 25 years ago and settled in Wellington. “I have loved Wellington ever since I arrived here... there are memories on every corner. It’s not my turanagawaewae but it is a great home for me.” 

“When I was diagnosed in February of 2016, the Mary Potter Hospice came to me and suggested that I pop into the Cancer Society Wellington. So I did, and I was delighted to see such fantastic services on offer! I come here to use the yoga and t’ai-chi classes, and I also use the counselling service. I take advantage of the massage service too.

Having those services available to help one navigate through the various emotions that one is going through is amazing. You know, it is so different from when my mother died of lung cancer... which was such a clinical and hospitalised process from the minute that she was diagnosed. Whereas I love the approach here, the support, especially as someone with a terminal diagnosis, that has empowered me to get my head together, make my own decisions about my treatments, allowed me time to give up work (I was a workaholic), and then have this openness to discuss and be free to find the support. And there is a smorgasbord of support to choose from. Not just for myself, but also for my son. These services that the Cancer Society have on offer, they help me to deal with the mind, the body and the spirit.” 

Cecily has led a life working in education, and she says this is the first time she has really started to become in touch with her body. As a self-proclaimed ‘thinker who lives in her head’, Cecily finds her diagnosis an opportunity to self educate. “This is a learning journey for me... and I just love learning. It is my work, it is who I am. So I am trying to embrace this new learning process.”

“I have felt blessed to have this time to prepare myself for death. I feel lucky to be able to put things in order, to prepare myself and those around me. I feel lucky that it is this way, rather than being hit by a bus or something sudden like that. After the initial shock I actually feel rather positive about it. For me it is about looking at oneself, and knowing answers will come. As my son said to me “Mum, if you feel your work here is done, then maybe it is your time.” That is the best thing he could have said to me. It is just another step I need to take on my journey. Death is but a veil, it is never a chasm.” 

We want to thank Cecily for allowing us to share her story. We wish her well on her journey.

 venice sml

Venice Comfort

It all started with a lump in my left breast.  A mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy confirmed cancer and the need to have a mastectomy.  I was overwhelmed with information and medical jargon but luckily a Cancer Connect pamphlet was included in the pack from my specialist, so I called the 0800 number.  I remember being able to talk to real women who had had the same procedures I was about to have, and how good it was to get their experience and perspective.


Fast forward a couple of years after my surgery and I wanted to make use of my own experience to help other women.  I now volunteer as a Cancer Connect caller, with the Cancer Connect nursing team matching me with women wanting to know how I felt at the time, what my experience was, and how I feel looking back on it.  I’ve been making calls to people for the past four years and it is so rewarding.  Each time I pick up the phone to talk to someone I remember being on that end of the line, wanting to know all about how it felt to have surgery – not just what was going to happen in a medical sense, but the emotional side of things and what was going to happen to my body.

 I love the chance to talk to other women, to hear their stories, and to learn from them.  Volunteering fits in well with my work, and I can make calls when it suits me and the women who ask for support.  It’s sometimes weird reliving that time in my life, but it’s satisfying to know that my story can help other women feel better, calmer, or more armed with the information in order to make a decision.  I have also enjoyed the connection with the nurses at the Cancer Society, the work they do makes going through cancer and treatment so much less scary for people who use their services.

Thank you Venise for sharing your story with us! 

 moera sml

Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor

My cancer journey started when my sister developed breast cancer in late 2009. Over the next year our family rallied around her and helped her through surgery and then treatment. I remember being very impressed, both with the professionalism of the doctors and nurses and with the amazing assistance provided by the Cancer Society Wellington. They had so many helpful resources, and best of all a team of wonderful staff who knew just how to help us support my sister. 

In many ways this prepared me for my own experience with breast cancer. I remember completing the mammogram and biopsy, and then going to see the surgeon who told us not to worry about it over Christmas and to come back in early January for an actual diagnosis. I will never forget her words when we saw her again, “I’m sorry, but it is cancer…and I’ve pencilled you in for surgery on Thursday.” The surgeon was so amazing, she had known it was probably going to be cancer before the results came back and had already made the arrangements for my mastectomy – needless to say her name features regularly in our prayers. And of course, I knew the kind of support the Cancer Society Wellington could provide to help me through my recovery.

Since then I’ve become a lot more involved with the Cancer Society – but as a volunteer, helping other people access the same services that helped me. A couple of years ago I became part of the board of the Cancer Society Wellington. 

One of my passions is helping Pacific women who have cancer. Often cultural misunderstandings can create barriers to these women receiving the support they need. In 2016 some friends and I developed a pamphlet resource to help Pacific and Māori navigate their cancer journey effectively. I also help run Fesoasoani – a support group for Pacific Island women with cancer. We provide a safe place for Pacific Island women to share their cancer experiences. Most importantly, we reinforce to these women that with agencies like the Cancer Society ready to help them, they are not alone. 

 Thank you Moera for sharing your story with us! 

 nancy sml

Nancy Thompson

“I lost my ability to talk, but as a result - I found my voice.” 

Nancy Thompson gave a moving speech at Relay For Life, Wellington this year. We wanted to share it with you, to show the kind of brave individual that your donation is helping. 

"Kia ora tatou -  hi everyone.

Firstly I would like to congratulate Dawn Almanzor and her team for this amazing event. 

This is my first time at Relay For Life. I’m not used to standing on the stage talking to competitors and supporters. I’m usually competing – athletics, at the gym training for body building and more. Recently I’ve been doing 10 kilometer walking races.

I came under the care of the Cancer Society five and a half years ago when I was diagnosed with a five centimeter malignant tumour in an unusual place in my throat.  After all the radiation and chemotherapy treatment I unfortunately needed to have radical surgery to remove my voice box, disconnect my nose, and remove a muscle from my neck to save my life.

I believe that without the incredible support of this organisation and the amazing team of people, both paid and voluntary – yay for volunteers! – I would not be standing in front of you today. 

I tapped into everything I could to help me pick up the pieces and continue my life. I went to art therapy sessions with Mary and massage with Bobby-Jo - that man is so talented! I attended head and neck cancer workshops, and had countless support sessions with the magnificent Marg Alve. That woman got me through.

For me the value of an organisation is always found in its people – you! Quite frankly I think the Cancer Society is a taonga in this country; a priceless treasure.”

 Thank you Nancy for sharing your story with us! 


gaye dvis4 

Meet Gaye Davis. She is one of our residents at Margaret Stewart House - our on-site accommodation at Wellington Hospital. Margaret Stewart House is dedicated to out-of-towners needing cancer related treatment.

When Gaye Davis and her family moved from their farm to the streets of Masterton, they envisaged a new beginning ahead. So when she was told that she had a brain tumour that needed to be removed, her new start turned into a journey of healing.

Gaye was told that she will need four weeks of radiation therapy, and chemotherapy down the track. So
naturally the mum of four was wondering how she was going to manage her appointments. In comes Margaret Stewart House (MSH).

“I don’t know what I would have done without MSH. Masterton is quite far away, someone would of had to drive me in to Wellington once a day. Or catch the train in and back again… which is not ideal... especially when you have just received treatment and your feeling exhausted. It would’ve been way too much for me.

My room here has beds for my kids to stay in, which is fantastic. For them to come down and spend a day with me… well it’s helped them to be able to understand what’s going on” says Gaye.

But it is the people who have truly made MSH feel like a home away from home. “I met a woman here who has the same thing I have. It was so good talking to her. The best thing here is all the people… and meeting others on a similar journey, we are all in the same boat. There is a sense of camaraderie. The staff are so amazing and the volunteers too. I call it my little Motel.”

Gaye has been making the most of the library, and the “awesome scones on Wednesday, with cream and jam”. She also loves the location based in Newtown, New Zealand where she can jump on a bus to go into the city, walk to the zoo, the shops and our famous Wellington Cafés.

We wish Gaye a full recovery for the journey ahead. Your donation goes towards providing a range of services that include Margaret Stewart House. Without your help we couldn’t support people like Gaye. So from the bottom of our hearts, we say “thank you”.  

This story was published recently on our Facebook page and had nearly 7000 people see it! Like us on Facebook to see more stories from us.