Guiding the wheel: why I help communities understand cancer

Submitted by Dan_Canteen on 01 Jun 2021
01 Jun 2021

By Shae Chester, Mum and National Community Educator at Canteen

I’m scared.

And despite you reading this right now on Canteen’s website, it’s nothing to do with cancer, it’s to do with teaching my 16-year-old twin boys how to drive.

Among the many hats I wear as a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter and the Community Education Manager here at Canteen, the one I’m most proud of and thrilled about is being a mum.

It’s been a real ride and I’ve loved every moment, and I think that’s why I’ve always been so drawn to holding professional roles that involve deep connections with families and how they communicate with each other.

I celebrated by 12th anniversary at Canteen last month – no mean feat for an organisation that has supported me in a heap of different roles, all of them very much focused on trying to make a difference in the lives of young people and their families who are impacted by cancer.

I was inspired to share my story during June as Canteen focuses on all things ‘family and relationships’. I think what resonated most with this theme is that my boys are in the age range that Canteen supports – which is 12-25 – and I can’t imagine dealing with a cancer diagnosis in the family right now… or ever really.

I’ve been working hard for the past 18 months on an incredible project made possible by Metricon – who are empowering Canteen to reach out and improve the community’s understanding of how chronic illness can impact families.

COVID has made doing this a challenge, but also, in perhaps one of the only positive things to come out of the pandemic, more accessible because everything has gone digital, and people are now used to connecting and learning online.

So what does community education look like at Canteen? It’s actually a lot of things, servicing the entire community:

  • For parents: online events such as our live Parenting through Illness webinars which are for those dealing with a life limiting or life impacting illness, access to our recorded webinars, or our shorter YouTube videos that deal with topics like illness and COVID, end of life and bereavement, and how to parent through holidays.

  • For teachers and students: similar online information and support as for parents, except that I focus specifically on assisting educators and other school professionals to understand the impact of cancer on young people (including friends of those diagnosed with cancer), how they can help students and where to get further support for their school, including from Canteen. There are webinars, videos on YouTube, and I can cater sessions to educators that are tailored to their unique situation at school - see more here.

  • For healthcare workers: we have webinars, videos and tailored sessions for professionals who would like insights from our work with young people and their families, particularly the strategies that can help in those early days of diagnosis.

I know that when cancer and significant illness hits a young person, its impact can be felt across the community. Everything I do aims to improve the community’s understanding of how cancer and chronic illness can impact these young people and their families, and to give support and education to parents, schools and health professionals so that ultimately no one has to go through a cancer experience alone.

Now I’m off to strap myself into the ride of my life as my boys take turns behind the wheel. Of course, it’s all a journey, but I’m thankful that no matter what happens there are organisations like Canteen that are here to support them, and me, and my entire family, if cancer did come crashing in.

If you’d like to know more about me or what I do at Canteen, please reach out on 0420 363 170 or [email protected]

And if you’d like to jump straight in and see how Canteen can help if you or someone you know is impacted by cancer, please visit:

Canteen Community Education is funded by Metricon.

An updated article by Shae (2023):

Community Education and Beyond

Improving understanding of how cancer and chronic illness can impact families.