Sometimes in life, everything happens at once.
For Canberran resident Elizabeth Pickworth, a cancer diagnosis and a notice to move out of her rental property coincided.
New to town, she reached out to the Canberra Notice Board Group on Facebook to ask for advice about finding an affordable removalist.
She wrote that it was important to keep costs down because doctors had recently found a tumour near her heart and her treatment would mean time away from work.
While she was being paid for time off, her husband was not, and the costs associated with treatment were adding up.
The response she received was “overwhelming”.
Some people made suggestions for removalists, others offered to bring around dinner for the family of three, to babysit her young daughter or to carry boxes on moving day.
“Maybe when you get a place, post on here a date and we can all come and help, in one way or another,” Facebook user Anna Spear wrote.
Inevitably, there was an offer to move the family free of charge to their new home, in time for four-year-old Lindy to start school in February.
“Emotionally, it was overwhelming,” Ms Pickworth said.
“I cried. Because I thought ‘oh these people are so amazing and kind and they don’t even really know me’.
“They just want to do what they can, even if it’s just cook a meal or look after my daughter.”
‘I woke up in excruciating pain’
When Ms Pickworth was born, doctors found she had a large hole in her heart called a ventricular septal defect, and as a toddler she underwent surgery.
Hospital visits were routine, to assess and treat new holes as they formed, as well as a heart murmur.
Heart trouble was so familiar to the 31-year-old, she did not immediately panic when she woke on November 30 suffering “excruciating pain” in her chest.
“It was around 2:00am and the pain was relentless. But I put it down to the fact I wasn’t feeling well after dinner, as I ate a very large Sujuk [Turkish sausage] omelette,” she wrote on her blog.
But the pain worsened and later in the day Ms Pickworth drove herself to her GP, where paramedics were called.
The pain was being caused by a mass in her chest later discovered to be Thymoma, a rare cancer of the thymus gland.
Once she had recovered from the shock brought on by the news, Ms Pickworth said the diagnosis had also brought clarity, and helped her cope with the stress ordinary life — including the sudden prospect of moving house.
“The funny thing is, I haven’t felt as stressed as I would normally feel,” she said.
She said cancer treatment was not as painful or debilitating as she had been led to believe and “nothing like the movies”.
And she urged others in the early stages of diagnosis to take comfort.
“I’m actually coping really well. The funny thing with cancer is it helps you put things into perspective and figure out what’s important.”
‘I make a mean lasagne’: Canberra residents offer support
Also easing the stress of her diagnosis was the knowledge that treatment would be delivered for free.
But Ms Pickworth will have to go through more than one round of chemotherapy, open chest surgery and radiotherapy to ensure the tumour is controlled.
She said she was also grateful to her colleagues at advisory company Proximity for their support.
“My work has been incredibly supportive since day one,” she said.
“They came to hospital when I was diagnosed and they have really gone above and beyond with supporting me and my family during this difficult time.”
But the necessary days off from work for both Ms Pickworth and her husband, Mohab Kamel, have already taken a toll.
“It has been financially quite difficult — my husband has a casual working arrangement so if he doesn’t work he doesn’t get paid, and he’s my carer,” she said.
‘The small things really do add up‘
In the end, more than 150 people responded to Ms Pickworth’s Facebook post.
Not only will her family be given a free removal service, they have had additional offers of support to make the day run smoothly.
“A woman sent me a voucher online to buy drinks for the removalists, that was very sweet. She said ‘I just want to help’,” she said.
“It’s the small things that really do add up when you’re not feeling well or you’re tired from chemo.
“I’ve had so many people respond to me saying: ‘I’m a childcare educator’, ‘I’m a nurse’, ‘please let me know if I can meet you and your daughter and help you out’.”
She said accepting help was never easy, but it made all the difference at a difficult time.
“I just really want to thank the Canberra community — you hear certain things about how Canberrans aren’t very welcoming, but I’ve actually experienced the complete opposite since day one of moving here.”
Topics: human-interest, health, cancer, community-and-society, canberra-2600, act, australia
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