Alice Springs ... and decisions


I had just moved to Alice Springs and was looking for work when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

What options does one have in a remote area? One, stay and be treated by the public system with minimal exposure to specialists, or go interstate to find specialist care. I ended up using both private and public services. Would I do it again? I'm not sure. I am pleased with the choices I made, but the final outcome of follow-up care has been compromised. I feel neither wants to take responsibility for my ongoing care.

As soon as my GP gave me my diagnosis, the local hospital organised mammograms, biopsies and day surgery for a lumpectomy. I hadn't really considered specialist care; however a friend of mine took the initiative to arrange an appointment with her specialist surgeon in Adelaide, my home town, 1300 kms away.

I had a sentinel node biopsy and surgery to remove more nodes all through the private hospital system in Adelaide. During this time, my husband and I stayed with our niece. Three weeks later I was able to return home to Alice Springs where I was to start chemo immediately. The option of receiving this treatment where friends and family were was just what I wanted, but it was a horrendous two day journey. On arriving home I contacted the hospital to arrange an appointment for my first treatment. It took three phone calls to find anyone who would help me.

What other option did I have? Go back to Adelaide and spend up to six months receiving chemo and radiotherapy, staying in government-provided accommodation, or remain at home with the support of family? Also, if I went to Adelaide, my husband would accompany me and have to take time off work without pay. Others I know of have chosen to fly to their place of treatment for each chemo session and return home as soon as they are feeling well enough to fly.

After chemo it was off to Adelaide again for six weeks for radiotherapy in the public sector. I stayed with my son for this period.

Some follow-ups were arranged with my private breast care specialist, as well as with my oncologist who visits Alice Springs regularly in the public sector.

Travel is an issue. The risk of lymphoedema during travel either by air or road is worrying. Travelling when one is unwell and recovering from surgery is not desirable. Living in a remote area limits one's choice considerably and has an enormous influence on one's emotional wellbeing.

-- Mary, Alice Springs

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