Photo (l-r): Dr Rachel Conyers, Mrs Vaqalo, patient John Vaqalo and Nurse Coordinator Donna Gairns
Fifteen year old Fijian resident John Vaqalo became the first patient treated at Epworth Richmond with the Treat Unique Service established by Dr Rachel Conyers to provide private care for adolescent cancer patients.
The first service of its type to be provided within the private health care setting will treat common cancers in the adolescent and young adult age group (16-25 years old) including lymphoma (particularly Hodgkin’s disease), germ cell tumours, and blood abnormalities. Social worker Christina Leonardis and specialist Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Nurse Coordinator Donna Gairns work with Dr Conyers to provide the patients with one-on-one holistic care.
Mrs Vaqalo, pictured with the staff, said despite the hardship of having treatment so far from home, the doctors and nurses were all very good.
“They were all so helpful and made us feel safe and well looked after. There were a lot of one-on-ones with Christina and Donna, who tried to understand how John was feeling.
“The staff at Epworth Medical Day Unit were attentive and caring. They were very supportive to me and made it an easier experience,” she added.
Dr Conyers, who has worked for many years with adolescent bone marrow transplant and cancer patients at the Children’s Hospital in Parkville, says cancer derails a lot of adolescent patients and they experience a higher rate of mental illness due to the pressures of their illness.
“There are many reasons for this. It is a time when young people are adjusting to life, creating their identity and seeking autonomy. A cancer diagnosis can halt or slow these normal processes, making life more difficult and challenging. Without the correct support, a cancer diagnosis for this age group also impacts heavily on schooling or university attendance,“ Dr Conyers said.
“The Treat Unique approach is to give these patients the space to explore and work through those challenges with experts from oncology, haematology, nursing, social work and mental health care “
“We aim to ensure the patient has the information and an understanding of what they need to move forward in life and for after therapy ends.”