Judy Sammut OAM is an exercise instructor with a lived experience of breast cancer. She is tireless advocate for exercise after cancer, and volunteered for Counterpart for nearly 20 years. In 2013, she was awarded with our inaugral Champion award in recognition of everything she has done for women with cancer. She has kindly shared the story of how she came to be involved in Counterpart.
In the beginning, Sue Lockwood declared, 'I have a dream… we need a drop-in and resource centre for women with breast cancer', and she sought support from those of us members of the Breast Cancer Action Group with experience in the ever-widening field of breast cancer. 'Make a list' she said, 'of what you would like to see in this centre'.
Having run the gauntlet of breast cancer in 1992, which included a mastectomy and implant reconstruction, TRAM flap reconstruction followed by another mastectomy, followed by six months of chemotherapy, I reckon I’ve experienced many breast cancer challenges.
During the two-year recovery period I discovered the importance of specific exercises to stretch my chest wall, relieve the tightness that resulted from the axillary clearance, regain my range of movement and restore my damaged body to wellness. One of my sons, a physical education student, and I created a series of relevant exercises that provided the ideal recovery outcome.
I then discovered the YWCA Encore program, a land and warm water pool exercise program that was new to Australia, and I was so impressed with the huge benefits to breast cancer sufferers that I trained as one of the first groups of qualified instructors prior to it becoming a national program. I conducted these programs for 20 years.
My experience led me to joining up with other driven women to improve the lack of services for breast cancer. So when Sue Lockwood said, 'Make a list', mine included, among the many other features available today at Counterpart, an exercise program, of course! Staff members Di Missen and Helen Shepherd undertook with enthusiasm many hours of research and hard work and the enormous task of breathing life into Sue’s dream, and then BreaCan became a reality. As the opening date for BreaCan approached, Sue said to me, 'You wanted the exercise program – well go for it girl, it’s all yours.' So what else could I do but say OK? But where were we to hold this program? And what do we call it?
It was decided that we’d try out the Feel Good Gentle Exercise Program on a fortnightly basis and following a slow start, the numbers increased noticeably – we had as many as 21 women at some sessions. More recent years have seen us provide a Stepping Into Wellness with many thanks to Teresa Amelio’s Pink Affair's generous funding a 6 week exercise program in many different suburbs.
Over the years many women have participated in the Feel Good and Stepping Into Wellness sessions while coping with the dreaded emotional and physical rigours of breast cancer. It has been very rewarding and gives me so much pleasure watching the camaraderie develop between them and the reassurance they feel of having appropriate exercises tailored to the limitations they experience following surgery. I love watching them move on, return to work, capture and restore their health and their lives, although sadly not all of them do.
I am privileged to be part of this unique service and watching as it continues to develop and expand under the professional and caring guidance of management and staff and, of course, the warmth of the empathetic volunteers.