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A letter from Nan Burley, a 93-year-old cancer support volunteer at Royal North Shore Hospital

By June 15, 2022June 1st, 2023No Comments

My name is Nan and I’m a cancer support volunteer at the wig library within the Northern Sydney Cancer Centre (NSCC) at Royal North Shore Hospital.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984 and elected to have a modified radical mastectomy. I had a long career as a registered nurse and I trusted in the doctors and nursing staff, but it was still an uncertain and scary time for me. Back then, the healthcare system was very different – there wasn’t much of a focus on non-medical or wellbeing support for patients. It was particularly difficult to connect with other patients or speak to someone who had shared my experience that was not a medical professional.

Nan Burley

Our healthcare system has changed a great deal since then and now, we are provided with so much more than just immediate medical care. Many departments have robust wellbeing programs that are focused on improving the patient experience and providing crucial support and education for carers and families. Former patients, like myself, often volunteer to help shape these programs using their own personal experiences to provide additional support to current patients.

If you’re grateful for the care that you or your loved ones have received at one of the hospitals within the Northern Sydney Local Health District, I hope that you will consider making a tax-deductible gift to support the NORTH Foundation’s tax appeal.

I was an active volunteer in the 1990s and helped to set up breast cancer support programs, including the first ever breast cancer seminar in NSW. Even when my husband and I moved to the United States temporarily for his work, I continued my passion and took on a role managing a breast cancer support program in Connecticut.

32 years after my initial diagnosis, I am proud to say that I still volunteer every Tuesday at the wig library within the NSCC at Royal North Shore Hospital to help patients who have lost their hair as a result of chemotherapy. What I enjoy the most is helping people choose their wigs and seeing them feel confident and smile again.

An important part of my role is also to talk to newly diagnosed patients and educate them about the services available to help them and their families. And at age 93, I think I am one of Royal North Shore Hospital’s oldest volunteers and I hope I have more to share with others.

Patients go through many stages, both physically and mentally, when faced with a medical diagnosis like cancer and can experience various side effects from their treatment. Your donation today can help support important patient wellbeing initiatives across our hospitals like the wig library, family information sessions, yoga, meditation and community education.

I volunteer because I consider the work of the Northern Sydney Cancer Centre to be so important and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon! I think it is important for the community to give back and support their local hospitals as they continue to grow to meet our changing needs.

As a volunteer, I have the privilege of working closely with a number of dedicated health professionals and I can assure you that providing a good patient experience is at the heart of everything they do. These healthcare teams are listening to you and implementing programs focused on wellbeing, rehabilitation and mental health to better support patients, their families and loved ones.

Your gift can make a difference. Please consider making a donation to the NORTH Foundation tax appeal to support your local hospital today.

Best wishes to you and your family,




Nancy Burley

PS Click here to read the NORTH Foundation’s 2022 tax appeal letter from Deb Willcox, the Chief Executive of the NSLHD. 

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