Survival starts here – Robyn Combes

Posted 18 Sep 2022
When Robyn is not awaiting an appointment with her oncologist on Level 2 of the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer (FCIC), she’s a friendly face on the ground-floor Wellness Centre as a consumer advocate and Cancer Council SA volunteer.

“It gives me purpose to tell my story and share with people that cancer is not a death sentence, that you can live with cancer and still have quality of life,”

“The fact I’ve had cancer has turned into a positive because I get satisfaction from listening to peoples’ stories and simply being there to support them,” she says.

The battle begins

Robyn’s cancer journey began back in ’98 when, a year before her 50th birthday, she was given the unwelcome surprise of a cancer diagnosis.

She underwent a nine-hour breast reconstruction seven years after her initial diagnosis, only to discover in 2014 that the cancer had returned in her reconstruction. Her specialist knew of only two people who’d had a tumour in their reconstruction – devastatingly, Robyn was the third.

Given the all-clear after several rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, she continued to live in Asia with her husband until they returned to Australia for their retirement. This marked the start of her Flinders journey.

“I was admitted to the Emergency Department because I was experiencing severe pain across my chest,” Robyn recalls.

“At the time I’d cracked my foot and couldn’t walk so I put it down to managing my wheelchair.

“They ended up doing some tests and as a result, I was told I had Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

“It felt like the bottom had fallen out from under my world.”

A path to hope and healing

With a glimmer of hope on the horizon, world-leading cancer survivorship expert and oncologist Professor Bogda Koczwara offered Robyn the chance to take part in a pharmaceutical trial program that has since prolonged her life.

She’s now come full circle in her Flinders cancer journey, beginning as a patient involved in a clinical trial to guiding others on the road to recovery.

This is symbolic of the integrated cancer centre; a place of hope and healing, where compassionate patient care intersects with innovative research, clinical trials and, importantly, wellness.

“We are body, mind and spirit,” Robyn says.

“The treatment is one thing, but the emotional scars are sometimes worse than the physical.

“That’s why the Wellness Centre is so important because cancer sufferers need to know that cancer doesn’t define who they are, that despite the fact that cancer is in their body, they have quality of life.”

In addition to her involvement at Flinders, Robyn runs a weekly cancer support group at Mitchell Park Neighbourhood House. Taking a holistic approach to cancer wellness, she has created a safe space for people to share their stories and receive information about complementary therapies such as meditation, massage and acupuncture.

She says the team approach at Flinders is invaluable for cancer patients.

“The fact there’s not just one person but a whole team of people working together to support the patient on the journey, it really improves their experience.

“For me, it’s a personal thank you to the Flinders Foundation for what they do.”


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