She’s in the fight of her life as she battles secondary cancer that has travelled from her lymph nodes to her bone marrow.
And Suzanne Quick has been forced to confront the reality that it might have been something in her environment – and not just genetics or bad luck – that was the cause.
She is one of the new cases to have emerged following a Newcastle Herald investigation into a potential cancer cluster on Cabbage Tree Road in Williamtown.
The investigation identified 39 people who had battled cancer over 15 years, after living or spending significant amounts of time on a five-kilometre stretch of the road.
Last month, the number was described by politicians as “mind-boggling”. The toll has risen significantly since.
For years, water brimming with toxic chemicals from the RAAF base has been flooding properties along Cabbage Tree Road. At the eastern end, where pollution levels are the highest, sits the abandoned Williamtown Public School.
Ms Quick, of Elermore Vale, worked there as a teacher’s aid between 1997 and 2007. She remembers spending “a lot of time” out in the playground.
But the school didn’t cross her mind when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in April.
Just coming to terms with the diagnosis was difficult enough for the 50-year-old, who had no family history of the disease.
“I was happy for people to know, but I couldn’t actually say the words, I would just cry,” she said.
“I’d wake up every morning thinking it was a bad dream and then I’d feel my head and I’ve got no hair.”
During chemotherapy, oncologists discovered the cancer had spread to Ms Quick’s bone marrow, “eating away” at her hip and shoulder.
She must now have both the joints replaced before she can undergo the bone marrow transplant she is counting on for a cure.
“I’m in remission but the cancer is very aggressive,” Ms Quick said. “If they don’t do the transplant there’s a big possibility it will come back.”
Doctors were hopeful she would have the transplant this year, but it now looks as though it might have to be postponed to 2018.
“Different things have gone wrong a few times,” she said. “It’s a long road ahead.”
Ms Quick’s daughter, Jessie, has quit her job in Sydney as a speech pathologist to care for her mother.
It’s been a source of great comfort for Ms Quick, who is too ill to drive. She has to attend an endless succession of medical appointments, but otherwise can’t leave the house.
“I’ve got to stay away from everyone because my immune system is so low. It’s so isolating. That’s the worst part of the whole thing.”