Two Gunnedah women with inspiring stories after surviving breast cancer are now supporting others through Can Assist Gunnedah raising funds to provide financial support as patients travel their own cancer journey.
Kate Knight and Val Ferguson know only too well that although they were the ones diagnosed with cancer, the impact on the whole family is incredible.
With indigenous heritage, Kate Knight was 20 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than non-indigenous women, according to statistics.
Kate’s cancer was revealed after a routine mammogram while Val discovered a lump herself six months after having a mammogram, proving that self-examination is important.
Cancer free for 19 years, Val had never had a brush with cancer before and while Kate’s father died from lung cancer there was no history of breast cancer in the family.
Kate has now been cancer free for five years – but both agree that it is always at the back of their minds.
Val’s cancer journey began in October 2004 when she found the lump, which a biopsy revealed to be a grade 4 cancer.
“I said to the doctor that it couldn’t be right as I had not long had a mammogram,” Val recalled.
“I had surgery on November 19, 2004 and chose to have a mastectomy.”
Val’s journey continued with chemotherapy for six months from January 2005.
“I did not have any radiotherapy as I would have to travel to Newcastle for treatment,” Val said.
“When my six months of chemo was up, the new drug Herceptin came on the free list so I had six months of that.
“My family travelled through this with me and I worked part-time while having treatment. My Mum and Dad were a great support and also my husband and a friend in Tamworth where I stayed during my treatment over there.”
Kate’s diagnosis after a breast scan in June 2018 was followed by a positive biopsy.
She next had an appointment with a surgeon who at no point ruled out a mastectomy. In July, Kate was admitted for a lumpectomy which confirmed a positive result. In August she had a second lumpectomy and still had a positive result so she opted for a double mastectomy the following month.
“My first reaction was that I felt like the rug had been pulled from under me,” Kate said.
“I had only been retired for 10 months from my position at the RTA-RMS for 35 years, had a holiday booked with my husband and close family friends in the September to Darwin, but it was cancelled because a mastectomy was more important at that stage.
“I was also lucky enough to have a McGrath Foundation nurse who supported us and answered any questions, we as a family had to ask. That is one of the reasons we always support the McGrath Foundation.”
Kate’s mastectomy was followed by 25 rounds of radiation starting on November 12 and finishing on December 19, 2018 – and Christmas that year was a joyous occasion.
“I was the one diagnosed with cancer, but the impact it has on your family is incredible,” Kate said.
Kate still remembers that first visit to the surgeon’s office with her husband Ray, three daughters, two sons-in-law and two grandsons sitting in the waiting room not knowing what to expect. She said the look on the surgeon’s face when he called her name and they all stood up was funny and his words were ‘sorry I don’t have enough room for you all’.
Kate also remembers having to tell their two granddaughters, then aged 10 and eight, after her visit to the surgeon and the youngest one saying “are you going to die?” to which she replied, “no because my doctor will remove it and we all need to stay positive”.
“What else can you say?” Kate said.
“I feel lucky to have had the support of family and friends who each took turns taking me to radiation treatment at Tamworth oncology unit, which I must add the staff at this unit are compassionate, respectful and understand family values,” Kate said.
“My family, friends and grandchildren were lucky enough to have a tour of the radiation room and have everything explained to them, how and what this machine is for. I’m sure this helped them understand it’s not as scary as it sounds. On my last day of radiation, the 11 of our family members came and watched me strum the Troy Cassar-Daley guitar.
“Every patient has a different journey,” Kate said.
Kate’s motto for life is ‘look after and respect your carers’ and ‘do things while you can because there’ll come a day when you can’t’.
Kate and Val are both country girls, with Kate growing up on a property between Nea Siding and Spring Ridge with her beautiful caring parents Cliff and Alice Natty and two brothers Ken and Eric.
“We attended Nea Siding School – our parents taught us to work hard, to live a happy life and achieve whatever goals we had planned,” Kate said.
Val was born at Quandialla in the central west and later moved to the Wyong area on the central coast, where she married Ross Ferguson and moved to Moree. Their three children are Warren, Brian and Sharyn. In 1985 they moved to Gunnedah.
Kate has been married to husband Ray for 50 years and they have three daughters – Melisa, Heidi and Sally, two sons-in-laws and four wonderful grandchildren.
Kate was a member of Can Assist before her cancer journey. After her Dad died from lung cancer, her mother became a member of the Cancer Support Group, which later joined forces with Can Assist.
Along with other compassionate volunteers, Kate and Val now work together for Can Assist Gunnedah, formed in 1958 to assist locals with financial matters as they face the ongoing expenses of receiving treatment at city hospitals.
The branch is one of 50 committed to making the journey with cancer easier for all rural and regional NSW. In 12 months the volunteer group has assisted 70 patients with $39,000 delivered in support.
Each member is a volunteer, patient information is completely confidential and all money raised stays in the Gunnedah shire.To order photos from this page click here