14 Jun

Go dry this July

Words by
Sue Turpie
Pictures by
AJ Taylor

Bendigo Health is asking the community to rally behind this worthy cause in support of the wellbeing of the region’s cancer patients.

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Giving up that evening bevvy for a month might seem like a tall order, but when compared to what that sacrifice can achieve for the region’s cancer patients, it isn’t much to ask at all.

Bendigo Health’s Dry July campaign makes an immeasurable difference to so many. The fundraising and donations received through Dry July 2020 enabled the opening of the Gobbé Wellness Centre, a beautiful building that now houses Bendigo Health’s Cancer Wellness Program. This program incorporates oncology massage, rehabilitation, yoga, meditation, music and art experiences, pet therapy and, importantly, a cancer wellness coordinator, oncology nurse Jenna Sing, to connect patients to the services that best meet their physical and emotional needs. The public is being asked to pledge to “go dry” this July to help raise vital additional funds to continue this important work.

Bendigo resident Jodie Stirling is more than qualified to comment on the benefits of the program offered at the Gobbé Wellness Centre. Not only was Jodie diagnosed with cancer in 2018 and uses the centre for her own wellbeing, she has also seen first-hand the toll that treatment takes on those who can’t access such facilities. It is for these reasons that Jodie is grateful for the generosity of the community enabling such a centre to be available.

Jodie’s mother-in-law, who passed away 20 years ago, was diagnosed with cancer when she was 54. Jodie reflects on how hard it must have been for her to travel four hours for treatment and not have had the same support base upon her return.

“You can’t put a price on being able to do everything here in Bendigo,” Jodie says. “When my mother-in-law was diagnosed, she would have to drive to Melbourne and back to receive treatment over eight hours and there wasn’t the extended support at home, either.”  

Now, cancer patients have access to the medical expertise and facilities they need in Bendigo, and their wellbeing is at the forefront of their treatment. Bendigo Health Oncology Unit clinical director Dr Rob Blum says increasing evidence shows that improved wellness enables patients to better cope with treatment.

“There has been a change in focus and people are thinking about physical fitness, their diet and their emotional wellbeing. An absence of illness isn’t wellness, it’s more than that,” Dr Blum says.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Jodie. “In my world, I used to think that you got cancer, you did your treatment and everything was fine, not realising the side-effects,” she says. “People don’t realise that once you have your chemo or your radiation or surgery, it’s not over. The program is about being able to go to yoga and mindfulness to help you try to learn to use your feet again and to get strength back into your body, and to do it in a supportive area where other people are going through the same thing, so we can laugh and help each other. This is one of the happiest places I go to.

“I call myself ‘Old Jodie’ before this happened. Old Jodie was tight and wired like a coil. New Jodie is the most chillax person you’ll come across.”

The Gobbé Wellness Centre program has opened doors to experiences Jodie believes she would never have tried previously.

“I would never have done yoga in a million years,” she laughs. “But thanks to Dry July and all those corporations and businesses who have donated, I could do this. Now I’m happy to pay to go to yoga because I can see the benefits. You’d also have never gotten me to do a mindfulness session in a pink fit. Now, every morning, I do my meditation. It changes you. I can understand why people don’t get out of bed while cancer consumes your life; to have something that helps you balance that is really good.”

Dr Blum says: “Connectedness and positive experiences make you feel good about the world. The Gobbé Wellness Centre’s focus is about what other things we can do to make someone feel better about their current situation.” For example, yoga can help patients enter a state of flow, while music helps make the treatment process feel less clinical.

“Some of our patients might have significant physical limitations and the instructors are aware of that and modifying and there is a connectedness because they know the people in the room understand what they’re experiencing. They don’t necessarily have to vocalise it, but they’re with people who understand.”

Dr Blum says bringing oncology nurse Jenna Sing on board as manager of the Gobbé Wellness Centre ensured a program perfectly suited to patients’ needs.

“She has great connectedness and energy and compassion for people, which allows her to appreciate what they might need. When people are receiving treatment, they might start to look different. They may feel intimidated going to a standard class and so they might shy away from that. This is a place of safety and that’s really important.”

You can join Dry July at and help keep the funds local by signing up to Bendigo Health. There’s no minimum fundraising amount and if you have a special occasion in July, you can buy a Golden Ticket that gives a Dry July participant a night off their challenge. For a minimum $25 donation, even a night off can still make a difference to the lives of people affected by cancer.