Survival instincts prevail

Survivor Foundation chief executive Samantha McClymans and Evana Willis.                   d433077
Survivor Foundation chief executive Samantha McClymans and Evana Willis. d433077

Just nine weeks after being diagnosed with a rare and aggressive breast cancer in 2012, Ms Willis underwent a double mastectomy and seven months of chemotherapy.

She has since had four reconstructive surgeries and a total hysterectomy late last year as a precaution.

‘At the moment I see my specialist every 12 weeks and I’ve learned through a lot of the workshops with the Survivor Foundation to not let the fears cripple me,’ she said.

‘There’s not a lot of us that have survived five years without reoccurrence so it can be fairly confronting. I’d start to be fearful of what was going to happen. I felt like I’d almost got to the point where I was mourning what I’d lost already before I’d gone.’

She said the fear could be so debilitating she would struggle to go out or face work.

‘What they have given me is the tools I need to tackle a lot of those thoughts before they get to that point. They are still there, I know I can’t change them but I can change how I react to them.’

Chief executive Samantha McClymans said the organisation, formerly the Peter Hughes Burn Foundation, had expanded its program.

She said it was now available to anyone who had endured any type of trauma, including burns, cancer, abuse and injury.

‘The workshops are run by our resident psychologist and our programs identify what post-traumatic stress disorder is and we explain the ins and outs of it,’ she said.

‘We also do different parts on building resilience so when another big event happens in your life you’ve got the coping strategies to actually get through that and not either have a relapse or another recurrence that they end up becoming isolated and basically withdrawn from everything.

‘We also bring in complementary therapists, hypnotherapists, meditation and we all know nutrition and exercise is good for our mental health so we include all of those. We just say go and try everything, there’s a bit of a pick and mix, and what works, stick with it.’

Ms Willis said survivors were able to support each other and make strong connections.

‘They’re such an amazing bunch of people,’ she said.

‘I draw strength from them just as I know they drew strength when I told them my story.’

The next wellness workshop will be in Busselton from March 20-22. Visit survivor .org.au or call 1300 136 285.