When Manly Vale resident Michelle Milner was first diagnosed with cancer, her first thought was her 12-year-old daughter, who started high school this year.
“I kept thinking about Ria,” Michelle told Manly Observer.
“I’m hoping that I have a good outcome to be here for her, to help her navigate her teen years and as she becomes an adult. When I was diagnosed, I didn’t think about what breast cancer meant for me, just that my priority, my goal, is doing whatever I need to do to be here for my daughter.”
The doctors have told Michelle that, thankfully, at the moment, she’s heading towards that goal. However, in the same month that she was told she had Stage 2/3 breast cancer, the mortgage doubled.
Michelle, a paediatric nurse at Sydney’s Children’s Hospital, takes on as much overtime as possible to cover the bills.
“Three years ago, after a foot injury, I moved into a three day a week job which is a combination of administration and clinic rounds,” she said.
“But to help pay for the mortgage, I also need to do a weekend night shift, which means being on my feet for ten hours.”
While exhausting, Michelle chooses the night shifts so that she can still be around for Ria during the day.
“I work every shift I can, that works around the family life, to give my family financial security,” she added.
Michelle’s husband, Ian, is a driving instructor and is working six to seven days a week.
“He cannot come to any of the appointments with me, which I know is hard for him to not be there for me, but if he takes time off work, then we will have more financial stress,” Michelle said.
Michelle has just completed the most intensive part of chemotherapy and is about to start 12 weeks of weekly chemotherapy, followed by three to six weeks of radiotherapy and then a double mastectomy with reconstruction.
If all goes to plan, she will celebrate beating cancer by September. But in the meantime, Michelle has to manage not only the treatment’s side effects with the stress of the rising cost of living, but she also needs to regularly find funds to partially pay for the treatment.
“The medical system is great in Australia, but not all the scans and tests can be done through the public health system, and I find I’m regularly having to find several hundred dollars somewhere in our already strained budget to pay for private tests that aren’t covered by private health cover,” she explained.
As for the side effects, doctors recommended Michelle take at least a month off during the first round of intensive chemotherapy.
“I think I’ve taken two shifts off. Before all of this, I had COVID and tonsillitis and had to care for my daughter last year, so I haven’t got any paid sick leave left. We can’t afford for me not to work,” Michelle told us.
Lauren Medcraft, Michelle’s colleague, has set up a GoFundMe page with the goal to raise $10,000 to help support Michelle and her family. At the time of publication, the tracker had just tipped over halfway.
“I hope with this money, Michelle can finally take the time she needs to receive her treatment, recover and kick cancer’s butt!” Lauren writes on the site.
“Let’s look after someone who has sacrificed time with her own family, worked Christmas, Easter, weekends and all the public holidays to care for critically ill children.”
We asked Michelle how she feels about the GoFundMe page.
“As someone who has always been so independent, it feels strange asking for help and I don’t want to come across as greedy, but, honestly, it could be the difference between losing or keeping our home,” she said.
Mid this year, Michelle will be forced to take time off work for the planned double mastectomy and reconstruction and she’s unsure how they will cover the mortgage during this time.
Michelle requested we share an important health message that she wasn’t aware of:
Women aged 40 and over can access a free mammogram every two years through BreastScreen even if they don’t have any breast symptoms. For women with symptoms, they should first see their GP.
Women aged 50-74 will receive an invitation from BreastScreen every two years to attend for a mammogram.