Recognising our volunteers for National Volunteer Week

Friday 14 May, 2021

Susan Sach: Cancer Connect volunteer

Cancer Council Victoria Cancer Connect volunteer Susan Sach says she finds volunteer work “meaningful”.

Cancer Council Victoria is recognising and celebrating the tireless work of our volunteers for National Volunteer Week (May 17 – 23).

From fundraising events to cancer support groups, there are hundreds of volunteers that generously help Cancer Council Victoria each year.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said volunteers were integral to the delivery of many Cancer Council services, programs and fundraising events. 

“All funds raised through volunteer-run events like Relay For Life and Daffodil Day go back into the community towards our life-saving cancer research, prevention, advocacy and support programs,” Mr Harper said.

“The commitment and dedication of our volunteers also allows us to run cancer support groups and provide information and support services for Victorians affected by cancer.”

Our peer-support program Cancer Connect has been running for more than 20 years thanks to generous volunteers.

The free and confidential service provides one-to-one phone support from Cancer Council Victoria volunteers who have been affected by cancer. 

Susan Sach has been a Cancer Connect volunteer since 2018. She was diagnosed with verrucous squamous cell carcinoma – a rare form of sinus cancer – in 2015.

After experiencing a consistent throbbing in her upper gum, Susan went to her dentist to see what was wrong.

“I thought I was developing a tooth abscess,” she said.

She was then referred to an endodontist who also couldn’t find anything. Finally, Susan went to her GP and underwent a CAT scan.

“After I was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist, it was initially thought I had a cyst. It was later diagnosed as cancerous and was a millimetre away from my eye,” she said.

Susan after her surgery
Susan after her surgery.

“Hearing that it was cancerous was a bit of a shock. I have lived a very physically active and healthy life, so it was very difficult to accept.”

Susan had her surgery in 2016 which was followed by facial reconstructive surgery, six weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation treatment.

After her diagnosis, Susan reached out to Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 Information and Support service.

“When I was first diagnosed, I had contradicting health advice from my specialist and my plastic surgeon about whether or not I should have a tracheostomy,” she said.

“That created a dilemma for me, so I called one of the Cancer Council nurses. She was wonderful and empowered me to challenge the surgeon. I did end up having the tracheostomy. As a result of previous experience, the surgeon highly recommended that I have it, so I put my life and body into his hands.

“I called the (13 11 20 Information and Support) service again hoping to talk to someone who had a similar cancer experience to me.

“I was put in touch with this wonderful Cancer Connect volunteer who had a very similar cancer to me. He was living this full life and that’s what I wanted too. That really helped me face the process and inspired me to think that I could manage this.”

Her own positive experience using the Cancer Connect program inspired Susan to become a volunteer herself. She said she wanted to help other people affected by rare or uncommon cancers.

“Because my cancer was so rare, my journey has been quite a lonely one. I tried to find a support group for myself, but the only ones I could find were for any kind of cancer. I did go to one a few times, but I didn’t have anything in common with the other survivors,” she said.

“Being a Cancer Connect volunteer gives meaning to my own experience. You can tell when you help somebody, and it makes me feel good. I have worked in the disability sector and learned how much value people get out of being with or talking to people with a similar experience.

“Cancer Connect work is meaningful because I can positively tell people: ‘I’ve had what you’ve have, this is what happened and now this is what I have been able to achieve since’, and that really helps people.” 

Susan also volunteers for the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research where she works with researchers looking at rare forms of endometrial and ovarian cancers. 

“When they apply for research grants, they need input from people who have had cancer. I also support the researchers in identifying opportunities for them to talk to the community and discuss what they do,” she said.

Susan is now cancer free, and is supported by her husband Jack, three children and four grandchildren. 

Susan with her family

Susan with her family.

There are 97 Cancer Connect volunteers in Victoria. Most have been diagnosed with cancer, while 22 have cared for someone with cancer and provide support to other carers through our Carer Connect program. 

In 2020, 271 Victorians accessed the Cancer Connect service and spoke to a trained volunteer with a similar cancer experience. Victoria’s Cancer Connect program also covers Tasmania and Western Australia, while the same program is run in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. 

If you would like to become a Cancer Connect volunteer, please submit an Expression of Interest form or call our Cancer Connect co-ordinator on 9514 6315. For information on how you can volunteer at Cancer Council Victoria, head to our volunteering section.

National Volunteer Week is an initiative of Volunteering Australia. It runs from May 17 to 23.