Grandmother becomes beacon of hope for patients after triumphing over rare cancer

Feb 27, 2024
Despite the challenges, Debbie Andersen continues to offer comfort and reassurance to cancer patients. Source: Josh Woning/ Mater.

Dedicated Mater Cancer Care Centre volunteer and grandmother, Debbie Andersen, found herself on the other side of cancer care when doctors diagnosed her with a rare form of breast cancer while she was serving as a volunteer in South Brisbane.

The 60-year-old discovered a lump in her left breast in 2020, which led to the diagnosis of a malignant Phyllodes tumour – a type of breast cancer that constitutes less than 1 per cent of all breast tumours.

Unlike more common breast cancers that typically originate in ducts or glands, Phyllodes tumours are unique, starting in the connective tissue (stroma) of the breast.

Despite the shock of her rare diagnosis, Andersen maintained a positive outlook throughout her treatment, which included the removal of the lump and a tennis-ball-sized portion of tissue, along with eight weeks of radiation.

In an effort to raise awareness about breast cancer, Andersen is actively participating in the International Women’s Day Fun Run on March 10, presented by Queensland X-Ray.

Although the CBD event is already sold out, Andersen is encouraging members of her community to organise or join ‘virtual’ fun runs in their communities.

“I know firsthand what it’s like to have breast cancer – so knowing money raised from this event will go towards research to help other generations with the disease is comforting,” Andersen said.

Reflecting on her personal journey, Andersen expressed gratitude for the support she received during her treatment at Mater. Dr. Emma Clarkson, her surgeon, played a vital role in keeping her informed and maintaining her positivity.

“My surgeon Dr Emma Clarkson was wonderful, she kept me informed with everything from the time I was diagnosed – I had a fabulous journey at Mater,” she said.

“I just couldn’t believe I was volunteering in the Mater Cancer Care Centre at the time I was diagnosed.

“I was used to providing comfort to cancer patients and found myself needing that comfort.”

Despite the challenges, Andersen, who has volunteered over 3700 hours at Mater since 2011, continues to offer comfort and reassurance to cancer patients, emphasising that the difficult times will eventually become memories.

“I always tell them that in a few years they won’t remember this time, it’ll be a memory” she said.

The funds generated from the event will be directed towards crucial breast cancer research, as well as supporting services for breast cancer patients at Mater hospitals situated in Brisbane, Springfield, Redlands, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, and Bundaberg.

Andersen’s inspiring journey stands as a testament to resilience, and her involvement in the Fun Run aims to make a meaningful impact in the ongoing fight against breast cancer.

The virtual challenge offers participants the opportunity to walk, jog or run 5km, or choose their own distance, in their neighbourhood any time between Sunday 3 March and Sunday 10 March.

You can register for the virtual event at


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