May 5, 2017

Mary, Darwin

Cancer survivor, loving step-mother and keen gardener who was hospitalised for two weeks because of pneumonia, DARWIN

Breast cancer survivor, loving step-mother-to-two and keen gardener, Mary, 66, Darwin, was hospitalised for two weeks after being struck with pneumonia.

Mary has suffered with asthma from birth and lives with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) after being diagnosed in 2009. Five years prior, she started feeling unwell after long hours and a stressful work environment were taking their toll.  

Mary was devastated when she realised contracting pneumonia would force her to take so much time off work, where she had a crucial role transporting hospital patients.

Now relying on an oxygen tank at home, and having overcome breast cancer in 2012, Mary wants to educate people of all ages on ways to stay healthy, including making sure they get the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine.

This is Mary’s story.

“For quite a while I had been working ridiculously long hours at work, starting at 6am and sometimes not finishing until 11pm at night. I worked helping to transport patients and that involved escorting them from the airport to the hospital. Often that meant that I had to work a day shift and go straight into a night shift without any break.

“As well as being exhausted, I felt under a lot of emotional stress not wanting to let patients down. I also struggled having to keep up with technology, learning how computers worked and even sending emails,” Mary said.

“I used to get told off for not replying to my emails, but I didn’t really know how to and I hated being sat at a computer. I was feeling so unwell that it got to the point where I had to go and see my doctor to find out if they could help me.

“When I arrived, the doctor told me that I desperately needed some rest. But because I was having difficulty breathing, he called an ambulance so that I could be examined at hospital.”

Mary didn’t imagine that just six hours after having a chest X-ray, she would be diagnosed with pneumonia and find herself confined to the hospital ward for two weeks.

“I felt so weak and all I wanted to do was sleep but I thought it was just because I was so tired from work. Then I started getting these shooting pains in between my shoulder blades and it was just a horrific feeling.

“Being asthmatic from birth, I always had to keep an eye on my breathing, but I had no idea how serious pneumonia could be,” said Mary.

“The worst thing was knowing that I had to get straight back to work, so I never took any proper rest. It took me months to recover and feel anywhere near normal again.”

That wasn’t the end of the health problems for Mary. She’s since had to battle two serious diseases. Firstly, being diagnosed with COPD in 2009, before the horrifying news that she had developed breast cancer in 2012.

“Despite having asthma, I’ve always been such a fit and healthy person and pneumonia was the first serious condition I’d had to face. I’m sure that it contributed to bringing on my COPD and made me reliant on using oxygen at home, or even when I go out for a few hours.

“When I got the news that I had breast cancer, I started preparing myself for the surgery and radiation treatment. I knew that it would be much worse for me because of my COPD,” Mary said.

“But after six weeks of excruciating radiation, thankfully I made a full recovery. Now I’ve joined a group called Breathe Easy and I even attend regular exercise sessions.”

Mary tries to be as active as possible by spending time in her garden, visiting her two step children and travelling around Australia visiting other family and friends.

“I’ve learnt how to control my breathing much better now. When I feel a bit short, I just stop and take deep breaths. Even now, my family still panic when they see me in that state and start asking me loads of questions.

“I’m looking forward to my cousin from New Zealand coming to visit later in the year. We’re going to hire a car and enjoy the National Parks around the Northern Territories. That’s why it’s so important to me to stay as healthy as possible and I’m always making sure to wash my hands and keep everything clean,” said Mary.

“I educate my friends and family about home hygiene, but I also make sure to tell them about the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. My doctor recommended I had it back in 2013 because of my COPD and recent ill health with cancer.

“My father died after his health went downhill rapidly following an episode of pneumonia. I always wonder if that would have been different if the vaccination had been available all those years ago.

“I honestly can’t recommend getting the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine enough, if you are over 65 or if you have an existing condition like me. It’s free so why wouldn’t you reduce your risk?”