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Nell Hanbury triumphs and gives back as a Blood Buddy

Publish Date: 16/6/2016

Three years on from her blood cancer diagnosis, Nell Hanbury is doing much better… she’s in remission, returned to work and achieved a post-graduate qualification.     

Nell is also volunteering as a Blood Buddy, a peer support program run by the Leukaemia Foundation, drawing on her expereinces to help others through their own cancer journey.

Nell was just 25 years old and working as a registered nurse at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney when she was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Given her health background, Nell suspected something was wrong when she noticed a lump near her elbow. After tests, scans and biopsies, it was confirmed that she had tumour sites on the right side of her neck, armpit and near her elbow.

Thankfully, the cancer was caught early, it hadn’t affected her bone marrow and Nell had an excellent prognosis.

“By far the worst side effects of my intensive treatment were nausea and vomiting. The nurse said I would probably just feel a bit hungover. Well, it was something akin to the worst hangover of my life,” Nell recalled.

In January 2014, Nell was confirmed to be in remission, a triumphant and significant milestone yet the blood cancer journey was not over.

“Rehabilitation back to independent life is a slow, frustrating process,” said Nell.

Nevertheless, this process inspired her to attain a post-graduate certificate in cancer and haematology nursing from the University of Sydney and Nell believes thinking about her future and having a goal helped her, psychologically, to cope a bit better .

“One morning while I was sick, I had a massive epiphany. It suddenly clicked that my destiny, my calling, was to be a cancer nurse,” said Nell. “People become nurses to help others and make a difference. I would make the greatest difference in oncology. This was it.”

Nell’s life experiences have given her a deep sense of empathy for her oncology patients and make Nell an excellent candidate for the Foundation’s Blood Buddies program. Having completed the Blood Buddies training, Nell is able to offer support to someone newly diagnosed who is going through a similar blood cancer journey.

“I sometimes feel a bit isolated from my friends and feel like I relate better to people who have had cancer. I guess I feel a sense of belonging and connectedness,” said Nell. “I think Blood Buddies is a really great program because the only people who understand what having cancer is like are other people who have been through it. By sharing my experiences I can provide other people hope for their future. Another reason I volunteer as a Blood Buddy is because I feel a responsibility to ‘give back’ after surviving cancer.”

Nell has had an inspirational, yet challenging journey, but her story illustrates how an otherwise distressing experience can be used to help others and make a real change in their lives.

There are now more than 145 qualified Buddies across Australia who have undergone training to provide appropriate support and assistance across Australia and we have made nearly 130 matches.

To help meet demand we are seeking volunteer Buddies who have had a diagnosis of ALL and who are now in remission (for at least 12 months), Amyloidosis, MDS, MPN, CLL, Waldenstroms and parents who have supported children/teenagers who have had blood cancer.

For information on the Blood Buddies program or to register your interest please email bloodbuddies@leukaemia.org.au

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