Support vital on cancer

LAUNCESTON woman Lee Philpott has a story to tell that some people won't want to hear.

It's a tough story about an expected diagnosis of cancer that might not have a happy ending.

But the usually private Ms Philpott is on a mission to tell it because she says that she has learnt some things about herself on this hardest of journeys that might help others.

Ms Philpott is thinking particularly of six of her work colleagues at St Lukes Health Insurance who face the same cancer battle.

One of her goals as she copes with surgery and debilitating cancer treatments is to be part of the staff team from St Lukes whose traditional participation in the annual Relay For Life event early next year will take on particular poignancy.

Ms Philpott's cancer journey started last September when she started vomiting before work every morning and put it down to stress.

``By April I had lost 20 kilos and other symptoms had started to appear and I'd had enough,'' she said yesterday.

Exploratory surgery found cancer in her bowel and liver.

``They can't do anything about the liver _  it's inoperable,'' she said.

After an operation in June to remove the cancer from her bowel, she has undergone chemotherapy to try to shrink the liver cancer.

Obstacles along the way have included more surgery to remove a port inserted for easier medication distribution because it would not work.

Ms Philpott said that the hardest part of the treatment so far had been leaving her house to go to the Holman Clinic at the Launceston General Hospital for the chemotherapy.

``Once you get there, it's fine _ the Holman Clinic staff are wonderful and there's not just me, it's all the others,'' she said.

``You walk into the waiting room and it's packed out and there's always someone worse off than you.

``It's like a slap in the face that brings you back to reality and stops you feeling sorry for yourself. But the hardest thing is walking out your front door to go.''

The other challenge for Ms Philpott has been the feeling of loss of control.

The independent woman who raised her daughter on her own and has been a senior staff member in claims and finance at St Lukes for more than a decade has had to work to find a way to feel she is still in control of her life.

``Colleen (St Lukes managing director Colleen McGann) helped me with that _ she said that there are two answers to a question,  yes  and  no,  and I choose which it is,'' she said.

Ms Philpott said that she had survived because of the support from her family and work colleagues.

``If it was not for my mum and my daughter, and my second family, which is St Lukes, I wouldn't have been able to stay so positive,'' she said.

Ms McGann has had one of her toughest years of the 51 she has worked at St Lukes in the past 12 months.

Seven staff diagnosed with a diverse range of cancers among a workforce of 53 across the state has deeply affected her and her close-knit staff.

``I don't want everyone to think we have a sick office _ the staff are across other offices and have a variety of cancers _ but everyone needs to know there is support in these circumstances. There is support in the community,'' she said.

``And the community must not be afraid to give it.''

St Lukes has coped by working together to support  sick colleagues.

Eight of the male staff took part in Movember this year to raise money for cancer.

And the company's team for next March's Relay for Life will be bigger than ever.

All six directors will be among those walking. 

And Ms Philpott.

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