Counsellor and cancer survivor shares tips on coping with diagnosis #MentalHealthMonth

*** This story was originally published here on the Manly Daily website.   

A counsellor who has recovered from cancer thanks to a miracle drug trial at Westmead Hospital is offering free sessions to help others cope with their diagnosis.

Chad Walkaden
Chad Walkaden, 33, will offer two free events for patients, families and medics.

“We can’t change the circumstance but we can change our response to it,” he said. “I coach people through meditation, breathing and looking at it from different angles.”

One of the people he has helped is Lisa Wilde, 59, of Freshwater. She was told she had bowel and liver cancer two days before Christmas last year after suffering stomach pain.

The GP’s receptionist said she could not even utter the word cancer before meeting Mr Walkaden, who charges around $220 a session.

She said husband John, 63, a mechanic, also found it hard to deal with as he did not feel he could talk to her about his fears.

“I was doing it pretty tough,” she said. “It really opened that line of communication between my husband and I. He taught me how to do breathing exercises, how to stop thoughts about death.”

Mr Walkaden, of Dee Why, was diagnosed with a tumour in his adrenal gland and, after it spread, was told nothing could be done. But after taking drug Keytruda as part of a Westmead Hospital trial medics say he is cancer-free, he said.

He’d had flu-like symptoms plus neck and stomach pain. After scans, Mr Walkaden, who was working as a social worker, was told what was wrong.

“I saw the look in their eyes. They said I had a tumour,” he said.

He returned to Australia for treatment and, after a year, was well enough to return to work as a Family Consultant for Family Court of Australia.

But in April 2016, the cancer was found in his lungs again, as well as in his lymph nodes and stomach.

He was told nothing could be done except trying the drug trial, which has been hailed as “a miracle” especially for types of lung cancer, Australia’s biggest cancer killer.

Now he goes to Blacktown Hospital every third week to be given the drug and his tumours appear to have gone.

He’ll return in April for more checks.

Dr Bo Gao, medical oncologist, Blacktown and Westmead hospitals said the drug mobilises the immune system to destroy cancer cells.

The drug costs up to $120,000 a year but as been listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for suitable patients.

However, Mr Walkaden, who has a girlfriend, Rebeca Mego, believes it’s not just the treatment which has helped him fight the disease.

He said dealing with the emotional effects of cancer have also helped him beat it — and launching the counselling service to help other patients, and their families, earlier this year.

Details: A holistic approach to your cancer journey, Dee Why Library, 6.30pm Thursday; Mona Vale Library 11.30am Tuesday, October 10. Book at Mona Vale 9970 1600, Dee Why 9942 2449. Free event.

Chad’s tips for cancer sufferers

1. Recognise there are going to be down days. It’s normal to have feelings of sadness, anxiety and fear.

2. Consider renewing an interest or starting a hobby

3. Think of your body as your business. Recruit a team of family and professionals to best support your life.

4. Daily movement is essential.

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