Meet Robyn, Volunteer at Icon Cancer Centre, Townsville

Robyn is a much-loved volunteer at Icon Cancer Centre, Townsville. She exudes an inner peace. Her parents would let her know
a) there is no need to waffle – just say it, and
b) he who hesitates is lost.

Robyn is a whizz with her sewing machine and when she started her volunteer role, she made a bright yellow skirt and wears funky glasses (also bright yellow). She usually wears the yellow skirt and glasses with the Cancer Council Queensland (CCQ) shirt. Often people say ‘here comes our daffodil’ and people recognise her outside as a Cancer Council volunteer. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and your story.

I’ll start with this – I am a country girl who was brought up on a cane farm in Northern Queensland. On leaving high school, I became a lady’s hairdresser, married and had two sons. In 1993 we moved to Townsville and I worked part time until 2000.

Seven days before my husband was to retire in 2012, he was diagnosed with metastatic colorectal cancer. Those three words started a spiral of events and even though Vic defied all the odds and we never focused on his illness, his soul was set free in July 2015.

During those three and a half years I certainly was taught so many lessons. We were taught together. My story really is quite challenging, especially giving him his wish to die peacefully at home and being with him right to the end. On the fourth anniversary of his passing, however, I closed that part of my life by setting free and throwing away the extensive diaries and photos of his wounds I had kept.

I am quite happy to be living amongst my old wares as I am very much a person who enjoys yesteryear and live on a rural setting of two acres, with a vegetable garden and my two beautiful chooks named Betty and Ruby. I enjoy watching them scurry around while I am in my veggie garden.

I have grandchildren whom I enjoy very much. My eldest granddaughter is doing Nursing and we cook together. I also enjoy embroidering and am a great reader. I could go on, but I shall leave it at that for now. We have too much living to do, to have regrets.

What do you love most about your Peer Support Volunteer role?

What I like most about my volunteer work is that I just love listening to the patients – they tell such wonderful stories. I find the patients very resilient. They are reaching out for normality that they knew before their illness. I am very accepted by the Icon team. I approach my role professionally and with common sense. I know a lot about what the patients may be feeling during such an unknown stage in their lives and can relate through my personal experience.

What do you do when a patient asks you about treatment?

If they were to ask me about treatment, I would tell them to speak with the nursing team. They will inform the patient and put them in the right direction. I do not make comment, but instead gently tell them, and find them most accepting of this, then we just go on with whatever we were chatting about. I am very aware of my professional boundaries and promotion of, and referral to, CCQ services is given when appropriate. If anything comes up that I feel needs to be noted, I contact the local coordinator and make an appointment to go in and discuss this with her. I have found that to speak truthfully to patients will help to build trust between you both. To let the patient know that you have walked a mile in their shoes is very reassuring.

What has surprised you in your Peer Support role?

Well, I guess, mainly my acceptance by everybody ie: CCQ, Icon Treatment Facility and patients. They have embraced me for just being myself. As a genuine person, this makes me feel very warm.

What has been the most inspiring or memorable moment you’ve had since starting with CCQ?

Thinking about this, I guess I could say that on many occasions I have been asked if I am a nun, which is the most unlikely thing to say, with my yellow glasses and my bright yellow skirt.

There was an instance where a certain gentleman who was a patient, would just ignore me. If I was approaching, he would turn his head the other way and I knew that it was best to stay away from that space. About six months later, when he finished his treatment and came back for a routine check, I happened to be leaving just after they arrived. As I stepped out of the Treatment Facility, much to my surprise, he approached me and reached out to tell me his story. I was quite overwhelmed by the whole situation. There are always very special moments at Icon – a small comment made. Then again this is what happens in ‘walks of life’ I guess.

What is your hope for the future? What do you hope your volunteering will achieve for cancer and CCQ?

Oh – to be honest with you, I don’t really look that far ahead myself, but in the plight of cancer, one can only keep working towards the future. The patients can only do the best they can and hope. I personally have a great belief that hope is the death of despair. We can look forward to what medical research can bring for cancer patients and for cancer in general.

What would you say to someone who was thinking about volunteering in peer support or with CCQ in general?

I would say give it a go and take up the challenge. Approach it with an open mind. I was terrified the first day I walked through the doors of ICON and unexpectedly found myself alone. I thought to myself, just be yourself – walk in and introduce yourself. Now it’s all like home to me when I go there. So, take up the challenge, keep an open mind and see how it goes for you.

Do you undertake any additional/other CCQ Volunteer Roles? If yes, what made you want to volunteer more hours with CCQ?

No, I am a person who likes to stick to one thing, and with my volunteering at Icon, I am happy with that.

When Icon has a CCQ fundraising event, they put me out there as a representative of CCQ. Even though the event is hosted by Icon, I stay longer including staying out the front to be supportive and explain what it is all about when they raise money for CCQ.

How do you stay focused and connected to your role?

Mmm, how do I stay focused? Well, I guess it is true that when I step into my role there at Icon, I am very focused on that day and really concentrate on what I might find and how the patients are. When I leave, I am able to step away knowing I’ve done the best I can on that day.

What do you do in your everyday life to focus on separating your own experience of treatment to those you visit?

When I see the patients, it is not my experience, it is theirs. I separate the two. I maintain that I do not speak to people about my job and I practice mindfulness daily.

Do you have your own support network that you lean on? How do they help?

I am a person that enjoys being on my own, though I have a very supportive family that are there if I need them at any time. We share the same block of land in separate homes and I am happy to do my own thing.