Karen Warneken from Lake Cathie was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 months ago, aged 44.

She has been away from her work as she goes through her cancer journey. She is a registered nurse and teaches Aged Care at Newman Senior Technical College in Port Macquarie. She says it is a fantastic year 11 and 12 campus that offers vocational courses in addition to Aged Care, such as Early Childhood Education and Care, Hospitality, Automotive, construction, IT and many others. 

Adds Karen, ‘It is an amazing school. Our students all work in industry 1 day a week giving them the opportunity to try a range of career choices whilst still in school. The numbers in my course have grown over the years. Each year now has around 40 students studying Aged Care. Many of our students are employed in local nursing homes as trainees which is fantastic experience.

I have worked in Aged care over the years as well as in a range of other nursing areas such as day surgery, recovery and on medical and surgical wards. Nursing is a fantastic career that gives many opportunities. I’m so looking forward to returning to work in the new year.’

Karen decided to write her way through her treatment and has hit the 30,000 word mark in her memoir which she hopes to be published called “Wake Me Up When It’s Over”. 

She shares below some of her thoughts in a small revealing extract.

If you are a cancer patient and having a hard time, do reach out to Lifeline 13 11 14 



(Extract from “Wake Me When It’s Over” a work in progress.)

In life there are always two sides to every story and more than one version of a person. It just depends on where you are situated within that story to determine what version you get.

As a cancer patient I present several versions. The version that most people see. The version where people say “Oh my od, you are so strong”, “You’re an inspiration”, “You look great”, “You rock a bald head”. 

I think we try to present that positive image to most people for two reasons. 

The more positivity we put out, the more positive we actually feel – so that’s a definite bonus. If we present as beaten down, a burned out image all the time, then this is what we will start to feel – and that’s not what we want. We need to keep hope and faith and remain positive – so that is an important version. 

Secondly, we want people to remember us as “normal”. Having cancer in no way allows us to continue a “normal life” but I want people to still see me as ME, not the girl with cancer. I think so many people are uncomfortable with a person with a life limiting illness – they don’t know how to communicate or stay in touch (more on this later!)

So. If we present ourselves as normal we can try to maintain a few relationships.

The second version is truer. The version only a few see – yes everyone gets glimpses of this me, but only a select few are privy to the fear and turmoil that lies within. This is the girl who cries, sits in silence, disappears into oneself. I can count on one hand those privy to this heartbreaking version. And those few are there for a reason. Not to console or tell me everything will be alright (although they do of course). They are there because they don’t judge or question. They just let me get it out – to rant, to cry about how scared I am that I’m going to die. This version is petrified, irrational at times. It can’t be consoled. These people are my tribe. They hear me. They see me. They are there for me if and when I need them without question. But they are few, and as the months linger, they become fewer.

Now that I really analyse these versions of myself I think there is also a third version. This one is only seen by my husband, Jason. I don’t know how he handles being the only one who gets this particular woman. Nights of screaming, punching, literally clawing at his face, crying for hours uncontrollably, screaming at the ocean, yelling instructions at him about how to do Christmas, birthdays, lunches, special occasions for the boys if I die. Will he remember to cover the boys’ bedroom floors with balloons for their birthday? Does he know where the boys’ Christmas stockings are? Will he sing and dance around with them like a crazy person just for fun and laughs like I do?

True fear is like a darkness that consumes you. The nights are always the longest. When the house is quiet and you can hear a frog outside the window, someone snoring softly, the waves of the ocean. This is the time when fear and grief overwhelm. When breath is taken away and the sensation of drowning is imminent. The heartbeat increases, a sheen of sweat appears on your brow, the body shakes as you try to hold tears inside, but it doesn’t always work. A moan escapes, a sniffle follows and when the dam breaks, it’s on; A full on waterfall of fear. He is the only one who sees on a daily basis the fear in my eyes and heart. This all-consuming, overwhelming disbelief of how fu…d life is at the moment. He is my rock, my strength, my light in the dark. He leads me back from the cliff edge to fight another day. This is the third version of me.

. . . .

Karen shares some very useful information – Hints and tips after diagnosis – things I wish I knew:

  • Don’t Google anything!!! This will send you down the rabbit hole – I can almost guarantee that.
  • Take someone to every appointment – I found I grasped onto the one negative fact and my husband would take in all the other information to feed back to me and remind me of afterwards.
  • Write down all the questions you want answered.
  • Ask for information on your treatment to be printed so you can look over it again afterwards.
  • Be proactive in making your appointments – if one place says no appointments, try somewhere else. You need to know all the facts so you can make a plan.
  • Having a Port a Cath made chemo treatments easy and stress free – definitely discuss having one.
  • Answer phone calls when you feel up to it – this time is for you to come to terms with things – don’t feel bad if you don’t answer calls –  if they are friends they will understand.
  • Be truthful to yourself and those around you about the journey ahead – yep it’s a shit show but make plans and accept help.
  • Stay active – exercise is great for both physical and mental health.
  • Seek out a psychologist or counsellor early into the journey – this is something I didn’t do until about 5 months into my illness but should have done sooner.
  • Investigate what financial options you have – for example do you have Income Protection? Paperwork can be long and tiresome so do this as soon as possible as once treatment starts and you feel exhausted it can seem like to high a mountain to climb.
  • Keep track of and celebrate the milestones along the way.
  • Listen to your body and rest when needed.
  • There are some great FaceBook support groups – these ladies understand what you’re going through and we can support each other in times of worry or stress BUT don’t become consumed with the negative posts – remember people often don’t post when they are feeling great so keep that in mind – there is a lot to be positive about!!!
  • Find out if your treatment centre has a breast care nurse to help support you.

. . . .

We wish Karen well as she returns to work next year. We certainly need those dedicated Aged Care workers! A big thank you to you all.


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