Meet our national Grief and Bereavement Services team
To help loved ones through perhaps the most challenging experience of loss in their lives, the Leukaemia Foundation has grief and bereavement support staff across Australia.
They can help you understand your grief, talk through your feelings, connect with a support group, or identify when an expert may be able to help. Each of our staff members has a background in nursing or allied health and is experienced in offering support.
Shirley Cunningham, Queensland
I am the national grief lead for the Leukaemia Foundation, a role I share with Donita Menon. I have worked for the organisation for more than 16 years, starting as a blood cancer support coordinator in June 2004. I have extensive experience as a registered nurse and have dedicated most of my career to caring for adults and children diagnosed with solid tumours and haematological diseases.
I have always been drawn to the psychology of people and those dealing with loss, grief and bereavement, and became the grief manager for Queensland 18 months after I started at the Leukaemia Foundation.
In my current role, I work with families in Queensland and those referred nationally for counselling. It is an honour to counsel and support our clients and my ongoing passion is caring for individuals and their families diagnosed as well as those bereaved by blood cancer.
I have studied extensively and continue to increase my knowledge in these areas. I have a degree in nursing, graduate certificate in paediatric nursing, master’s in health loss and grief and a master’s in counselling and Level 1, Gottman Institute training for couple therapy.
It is such a privilege to work for the Leukaemia Foundation and I am humbled to be invited, even for a small time, into the lives of patients and families at such a devastating time. Now with the organisation having grief support available nationally, more families are being supported in their grief than at any other time in our history.
Donita Menon, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory
I have been at the Leukaemia Foundation, working as a grief and bereavement counsellor since 2009. In my role as the national grief lead, alongside Shirley Cunningham, I work with clients who have a blood cancer diagnosis, members of their family, and those who are bereaved. I also have worked for Calvary Health Care as a pastoral care worker, in palliative care and in rehab. And prior to that as a primary school teacher for 26 years.
The challenges that individuals and families go through with a diagnosis of a blood cancer is unimaginable. It can be a very lonely space at so many different levels. To navigate life without the person you love can feel impossible at times.
My hope in the work I do, is to provide a safe space for every client to share and process their pain and to work hard to understand each client’s world through their eyes. I believe that every individual has the answers within themselves and through counselling can find a space to grieve, feel the pain and gently unlock a pathway to navigate their life. Going gently, being kind to oneself, nurturing and nourishing oneself and self- compassion are just some of the pathways to healing in grief.
I am a blood cancer support coordinator based in our Melbourne office and have been on the Leukaemia Foundation’s support services team since 2019. During this time, I have had the privilege of being invited into the lives of people and families living with blood cancer, to help offer information and support.
My background is in nursing, and during my career spanning 20 years I was drawn towards specialising in haematology and oncology care, in both Melbourne and London. I have worked with teenagers and adults with cancer, discovering opportunities to make a disruptive and terrifying time slightly less scary.
I recently became the grief and bereavement lead for Victoria. I am passionate about providing a space for people to acknowledge pain and despair, to sit with them, to allow them the space to feel their emotions, knowing sometimes that it can’t be ‘fixed’. Grief can be all encompassing and isolating at the same time.
My hope is that I can come alongside people, to let them know they are not alone as they navigate through circumstances that are life changing.
Jane Anderson, Tasmania
I’m currently the Leukaemia Foundation’s Blood Cancer Support Coordinator in southern Tasmania and have recently become the Grief and Bereavement Lead for the states of Victoria and Tasmania.
I completed a Bachelor of Nursing at the Royal Hobart Hospital in 1986. I then went on to complete a Graduate Diploma in Cancer Care Nursing in 1996 and have more than 35 years professional experience in haematology, palliative care, and bone marrow transplant nursing.
I have worked in a variety of haematology oncology specialty areas including The Royal Marsden in London, and as the Bone Marrow Transplant Coordinator for Tasmania at the Royal Hobart Hospital.
I joined the Leukaemia Foundation in 2004 to establish an office in Tasmania and focus on improving support services for patients and families affected by blood cancer.
Passionate about the importance of holistic care for patients and their families, I have always advocated that Leukaemia Foundation support continues for families when a loved one with blood cancer dies. My new lead grief role enables me to offer grief and bereavement support to loved ones.
Lara Andersen, Western Australia
I am a blood cancer support coordinator with the Leukaemia Foundation, based in Western Australia, and am also the grief and bereavement lead for the state.
I started working at the Leukaemia Foundation in 2007 and since then I have listened to and supported many people going through grief and loss. A notion of grief can be to push through it, to get to the other side, however, over the years I’ve realised that there is no other side, but rather there is absorption, adjustment, and acceptance.
I am honoured to be able to assist and guide people through their grieving process.
Allison Liakimis, South Australia and Northern Territory
I was thrilled to start in the position of a Blood Cancer Support Coordinator at the Leukaemia Foundation in January 2022, and to take on the Grief and Bereavement Lead role for South Australia and the Northern Territory.
I have a Bachelor of Social Planning and a Post-Graduate Bachelor of Social Work.
Over the last 21 years I have worked in hospitals as a social worker in both adult and paediatric settings at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and in the neurosurgery unit and Michael Rice Centre for Haematology and Oncology at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Adelaide.
During my time in these roles, I developed a passion for working with families facing loss, grief, and bereavement. I have had the honour of working alongside and learning from some amazing doctors, nurses, and social workers who have shown such skilled care, empathy, and compassion to families in all stages of grief. I considered it a real privilege to be able to work with families through such deeply personal and tough times, and to be able to provide a commitment to sit alongside them through it all – the good times and the bad.
I am dedicated to continuing my professional development in this field, so I am providing a contemporary high standard service to my team and people living with blood cancer.