13 February 2018
It all started in the year 2000 when my wife was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. It was already serious, and although they put her on watch, harvested her stem cells and performed 18 months of chemotherapy, sadly she passed away on Remembrance Day in 2005.
In those years of treatment, my wife was admitted lots of times to the Royal Adelaide Hospital. At one point in 2004, my son was diagnosed with kidney stones, stayed overnight in hospital, and an ultrasound revealed he had Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
I walked those hallways so many times, with my son in one end of the hospital and my wife in the other. I got to know the staff very well, and see how much they do to look after the people in their care.
It was some time later that I went through my own cancer experience. In 2014, I had a medical episode and stayed overnight in hospital, which is when doctors found a stage 3 melanoma on my arm.
Some people would be distraught at this discovery, but I’d come to realise cancer didn’t frighten me.
There is so much cancer surrounding us, and I think you can either feel like it’s too overwhelming and choose to avoid getting involved, or you can do the opposite and try to take on a role where you can make a small difference. A diagnosis doesn’t carry the negative weight it once did, with so many advancements in surgery, and treatment.
I started volunteering as a driver for the Cancer Council SA shuttle in late 2007. After a career in the police, I had often been involved in voluntary work and I was good at organising people. The busses are quite small; they take 11 people at a time.
Across both lodges, we transport around 60 people per day, to four main medical centres and hospitals around Adelaide. There are several regular volunteers, and I fill the gaps when needed.
The best part about it are the life stories and personalities of the people you meet. Sometimes I just sit back and listen, and other times I really engage, chatting and building new relationships and even friendships. You come to realise that so many people can be so positive even when faced with such a challenging situation. All the people who stay at the Lodges and whom I drive around, have come from rural towns and communities for their cancer treatment. They have to be incredibly resilient and strong—on top of dealing with a cancer diagnosis that can turn anyone’s world upside down, they’re also navigating treatment in completely unfamiliar surroundings. They’ll often not have the larger support networks of friends and family that Adelaide locals might be able to lean on.
People from the country have a strong sense of community, whether they’re from a small town or a big one, and I find that they will work to create a new community at the Lodges. They won’t talk about their cancer, but they’ll talk about where they’re from, who they know—trying to find some common ground. I think that the hardest thing to do would be to come to the Lodges, sit in a room and not mix with anyone. If you don’t socialise, it’s not going to help.
My advice to anyone coming to stay would be to start a conversation. I know that there can be physical and emotional limitations to how much you can manage, but always keep an eye open about how you can meet people wherever possible.
Cancer Council SA Volunteer.
Last year, Cancer Council SA Lodges provided 30,522 nights of accommodation to almost 9,000 guests, as well as over 13,000 trips to and from hospitals and treatment centres. The ongoing contribution from generous South Australian volunteers like Alan, and countless donors and supporters in the community, ensures guests can continue to attend appointments in the city, and have access to a range of life-changing support services.