Catherine defies medical odds, supported by WISE after a terminal cancer diagnosis

WISE Employment job seeker, Catherine, is smiling at the camera. She is holding a '5 balloon' to mark five years post cancer treatment.Penrith local and WISE Employment customer, Catherine, is rediscovering herself and embracing a new chapter, after what has been a harrowing last five years.

In November 2014, Catherine had just started her dream job as a medical receptionist, working with clinical psychologists when she began to experience ongoing nausea and back pain.

After seeing her GP and then a specialist, she was told she had pancreatitis – inflammation in the pancreas. Soon after, her GP followed up the specialist’s diagnosis which revealed they had missed the early signs of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, a deadly and incurable disease.

This misdiagnosis led to critical time passing and by January 2015, Catherine had two tumours on her liver. Initially told she had only months to live with or without treatment, Catherine was faced with the reality that she was unlikely to make it to Christmas.

Upon receiving this life-shattering prognosis, Catherine’s survival instincts kicked into gear.

“I was a single mum with three beautiful daughters – there were so many things I was looking forward to and had yet to experience,” she said.

“I was told only five per cent of patients survive past five years – I decided then and there I would be in that five per cent.”

After her diagnosis, Catherine endured months of gruelling chemotherapy and in her first major surgery, she lost her pancreas, gall bladder and parts of her bowel, stomach and appendix, spending four days in ICU. Since then, countless hospital visits, more surgeries,  a concoction of daily medication and a positive and grateful outlook on life has enabled her to defy her doctors’ initial prognosis and live for five more years.

“My daughters are my inspiration – I want to be an example of strength and resilience in the  face of life’s challenges and show them they are worth fighting for.”

In 2020, Catherine realised she needed to go back to work and earn an income to help support herself and her family. But after being out of the workforce for so long, she didn’t  know where to start.

“I found out about WISE quite late in the game – I only wished I’d heard about them sooner, as I didn’t know they also assisted people with terminal illnesses to find paid employment,” she said.

With a strong medical reception background, Catherine set off to find work in this field, and landed a job as a receptionist at an Orthopaedic surgeon’s office where she’s been working  as a casual for the past couple of months.

“My job has given me newfound confidence, and has allowed me to not be defined by my medical condition,” she said.

“I’m working hard to prove myself in this new role so I can be judged on my work ethic, not my health status. I’m so thankful for this opportunity, and I’m really proud that at my age, I’ve found the courage to take on something new.”

WISE Employment support worker, Skye Smith, has been on hand to offer Catherine advice and encouragement while she settles into her new role.

“Catherine is the most inspiring person you’ll ever meet – despite everything she’s gone through and is still going through, she maintains an infectiously positive attitude and doesn’t take anything for granted,” said Skye.

“She’s the embodiment of strength, kindness and grace and I’m so proud to be on this journey with her.”

Catherine has some words of encouragement for those who are in a similar situation to her.

“For anyone with cancer looking to get back into the workforce, I want them to know that there is support out there, and that the disease doesn’t define you – when the time is right, you’ve just got to believe in yourself, surround yourself with good people, get back out there and do the best you can. Because you’re so much more than your illness,” she said.

“Since the day of my diagnosis, I’ve been determined to run my own race and live my life to the best of my ability, one day at a time – and that’s exactly what I’m going to keep doing.”


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