Mary’s Story

“I felt like it gave me a bit of my dignity back again and to look better, look more presentable, gave me the confidence to start doing a few more things in the community. It really helped me move forward."

Mary's Story

When Mary Dobson unexpectedly lost 15kg, she knew something wasn’t right.

She was already a two-time cancer survivor, but at repeated appointments her GP believed ageing was the cause of her latest symptoms. Unconvinced, the New Plymouth 67-year-old refused to give up until finally a different doctor advised her to get a private ultrasound.

“I knew there was something definitely wrong,” recalls Mary, who first sought medical attention in December 2020.

In June 2021, her instinct was proven right when a scan revealed a three-centimetre tumour on her pancreas.

This became Mary’s third cancer diagnosis – having previously recovered from thyroid cancer many years before and more recently malignant melanoma.

Devastatingly, the news of pancreatic cancer also came just three weeks after her husband of 46 years Graeme passed away.

Mary was gutted but still determined to fight. What followed was a six-and-a-half- hour surgery, then six months of chemotherapy, which also meant retiring from her job as a registered nurse working in acute mental health, to focus on treatment.

“I was going through something really horrible,” shares Mary. “I had a cancer where there’s no guarantee chemo will be the cure. There are no guarantees of what tomorrow is going to bring.”

Of all major cancers in Aotearoa, pancreatic cancer has the lowest five-year survival rate.

“During my treatment, I remember thinking, ‘Who am I?’ I don’t have my job any more, I don’t have my husband any more.’ I had my family but I had lost my purpose. Even though I had really great support, I felt quite isolated.”

That’s when she was recommended to try a Look Good Feel Better session, held free for anyone at any stage of a cancer journey. It has proven to be a springboard for a whole new lease of life for the grandmother of seven.

Initially, towards the end of her chemo in February 2022, Mary attended an online wigs and scarves session. Among the group of people in the same situation as her, who truly understood what she was going through, Mary felt confident enough to abandon her wig.

She followed that up with sessions on skincare and make-up, and now regularly attends the online Q&A sessions on a range of topics from gentle exercise through to diet, mental wellness and coping mechanisms.  xxx

Look Good Feel Better sessions are funded by money raised by those who take part in Dry July, giving up alcohol for a month in return for sponsorship from friends and family.

The fundraising is shared between the Prostate Foundation, physical rehabilitation charity Pinc & Steel and Look Good Feel Better.

From rehabilitation programmes to wellness workshops, each service improves the lives of cancer patients and their whānau.

Mary is still amazed at how much the programmes have helped her.

“Seeing other people in the same situation making an effort, it kind of pulls you out of that place where it’s like, ‘This is my lot in life.’ It is good to feel like you’re a part of a community. It made me realise I am not the only one going through this.

“It just pulls you out of that hopelessness. The classes really brought some light into my life when there was a lot of darkness. It was a step for me towards moving back into society, moving away from just appointments,” says Mary, who describes herself as, “currently cancer-free”.

“I felt like it gave me a bit of my dignity back again and to look better, look more presentable, gave me the confidence to start doing a few more things in the community. It really helped me move forward.

“I’m joining up with more groups and have more confidence. I used to get out of bed in the morning and feel like I looked like ET. The make-up helped me overcome that.”

Her renewed vigour has even seen her try out for paddleboarding with Pinc & Steel.

“My physio Jacinta asked how would I feel about doing paddleboarding. And I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, that’s such a brave thing to do.’ It was something I never in a million years thought I would ever do. But I had three sessions. I’m doing my paddleboarding course in November,” she smiles.

“Now I am trying to live my best life. I meditate, I go to tai chi, I socialise. It’s all important to my wellness and I’m just really grateful to be here.”

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