Cancer survivor praises new support group: ‘you need someone to talk to’

Cancer survivor Michael Pieri talks about his experience with the disease.

Patient Michael Pieri says a new support group dedicated to head and neck cancer patients will make battling the disease a little easier.

Patients and staff from Western Sydney and Nepean Blue Mountains local health districts launched the initiative at Blacktown Hospital today, a program made possible thanks to a generous Better Foundation donor.

Left to right: Speech pathology department head Jenna Binsted, senior speech pathologist Erin Sellars and speech pathologists Reginald Daguio, Lydia Natsis and Kirsty Niven.

The group will offer patients from Blacktown, Westmead and Nepean hospitals a free and regular program of speakers and workshops, as well as an opportunity to chat and share experiences.

Michael Pieri bravely spoke about his cancer diagnosis at the launch event this morning, highlighting the importance of having someone to talk to when battling cancer.

The clinical team get together for a photo at today’s launch.

“I had cancer in 2016. It was accidentally found. I answered the call from the doctors when I was in the pub. The doctors said “you need to come in” which I did,” Michael said.

“I remember it was a Friday. I visited the hospital and they announced I had cancer. I saw radiation oncologist Puma Sundaresan and she said the head and neck cancer team had a plan for me. She said ‘we are going to fix you’.  

“At the beginning of this year she announced that I was on top of my cancer. When she told me there would be a new support group, and I thought fantastic.

Radiation oncologist Dr Puma Sundaresan.

“When I went through my treatment, I had a lot of questions about cancer. You need someone to talk to when battling this disease. So today it’s a great honour that we’re launching this, so thanks.”

Westmead and Blacktown hospitals radiation oncologist Puma Sundaresan said that while head and neck cancers are an uncommon cancer, the impact on patients is significant.

Patients, staff and representatives from the Better Foundation.

“Head and neck cancers can affect parts of the anatomy of our body that are critical for essential function,” Puma said.

“This means it can affect things like eating, swallowing and sharing a meal with friends and family or speaking and communicating with our loved ones.

“The effect of the cancer and treatments can be quite huge.”

Blacktown mayor and Better Foundation chair Stephen Bali with Dr Puma Sundaresan and patient Michael Pieri.

Puma said more than 65 per cent of head and neck cancers result in long term survival, particularly if these cancers are caught earlier– but the quality of life impacts means that support is important.

“I acknowledge everyone who worked very hard to launch this initiative for our local patients. I’m very proud of what we have achieved so far,” Puma said.

For more information about the Sydney West Head and Neck Cancer patient support group, contact Puma on: Purnima.Sundaresan@health.nsw.gov.au

To find out more about how to support Blacktown Hospital via the Better Foundation, contact nermeen.yacoub@betterfoundation.org.au.