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In early 2020, Pauline Tew was travelling back and forth between her home in Perth, and a new resort she was developing in Japan. For a lot of people, this might sound like a very busy time – but for Pauline this was normal. She was used to being on the go, travelling, working hard, and devoting herself to caring for her friends and family – especially her beloved husband Malcolm, who had suffered a major stroke. 

But when COVID-19 hit, the world slowed down - and so did Pauline. Forced to stay put for a while and not working quite as much, Pauline found she had more time to pay attention to what was going on in her own body. At night when she was trying to sleep, she began to notice a wheeze in her chest.

At first, Pauline’s GP thought she had an infection, and sent her away with antibiotics. But as the weeks went on, the wheeze was getting worse. Pauline’s GP ordered a CT scan, and then she was referred to Dr KP Lim, a respiratory specialist at St John of God Subiaco Hospital, who ordered additional tests and a biopsy.

Pauline remembers the next part very clearly.

“I can still remember Dr Lim sitting on the end of my bed in the St John of God hospital. He said, ‘You’ve got lung cancer.’ And I said, ‘That’s impossible! I’ve never smoked.’

Dr Lim explained that the cancer was stage 4 – and it had already spread to her adrenal gland.

“My daughter Natalie was busy, so I hadn’t even told her I was going for tests. My husband was still recovering from his stroke so I hadn’t told him either. I didn’t want to tell them, but Dr Lim insisted that I needed to,” Pauline remembers.

“I think telling my daughter I had cancer was the hardest part. She’d had her dad having a major stroke, needing 24/7 care, and I wasn’t supposed to be the sick one. I was supposed to be the one who was always there.”

Pauline went in for surgery two days later. She stayed in hospital for 56 days. 

“I went in for surgery to remove the adrenal gland, but my good lung collapsed, so they couldn’t complete the operation. I went in again 5 days later, and they were able to take my lung out – but the cancer was attached to my main artery. I was in theatre for too long and my body went into stress,” Pauline explains.

Recovery from surgery also had complications, including an infection, cardiac arrest, and 9 days in the ICU. It took a toll on Pauline, and on her loved ones.

During this time, Pauline says Dr Lim was a great comfort for her and her family.

“He was such a strength, not just for me but for my daughter as well. He really cared, he’d come down to check on me and see how I was. When I was really unwell, and in intensive care he’d show me pictures of his son to try to keep me calm.”

After nearly two months in hospital, Pauline insisted on going home. Once she was home in a familiar environment, she felt that the healing could really begin, for herself and her family.

At the time, doctors gave Pauline about 6 months to live.
 So once she felt well enough, she swung into action.

“I wasn’t focused on my disease, I was focused on my family,” she says.

“I wanted to make sure they were looked after, because I didn’t know if I was going to live.”   

Soon after, Dr Lim recommended that Pauline be assessed by St John of God Subiaco Hospital Oncologist, Adjunct Associate Professor Tim Clay. She felt very lucky that Dr Clay decided she was strong enough to be put on an immunotherapy trial at the Bendat Family Comprehensive Cancer Centre (BFCCC). The BFCCC, established in 2007 with thanks to generous support from the Bendat family and donations from the broader community, aims to bring together many of the elements involved in cancer care including oncology, haematology and palliative care, and research.

“To have access to the immunotherapy was incredible – to know I wouldn’t lose my hair, and to not have as bad side effects, that was amazing,” Pauline says.

Pauline’s sister had sadly passed away from breast cancer years earlier, so Pauline had seen firsthand how exhausting and expensive some cancer treatments could be. Pauline says she feels grateful that this treatment was available at the BFCCC.

“The fact that the Bendat family are supporting lung cancer patients is fantastic,” she says.

“[The immunotherapy] was going to give me a good chance, and because it was a trial I didn’t have to pay for it. It really helped.”

6 months into the immunotherapy trial, Pauline’s cancer was shrinking and things were looking good. Pauline remembers fondly the compassionate care she received from caregivers in the Ivy Suite during this time.

“The care in the Ivy Suite was incredible, there are no words. You’ve got someone watching over you every day of your life – they really cared,” Pauline says.



Lung cancer remains a challenging disease, but the thought that someone could be a long term survivor was heresy as recently as 10-15 years ago.  Pauline is now four years on from her original diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer thanks to modern cancer treatment.  Research work continues to improve the small but increasing number of patients who can enjoy an outcome like this.

Adjunct Associate Professor Tim Clay, St John of God Subiaco Hospital Oncologist

With her family looked after and treatment going well, Pauline found herself wanting to return to work. She began taking on unpaid roles (in her own words – “No one will want to pay me, because I could be dead next week!”), helping out friends with their own businesses. She also began mentoring young people, sharing her life experiences and business knowledge.

After 10 months of immunotherapy, Pauline’s cancer had shrunk enough that she was officially in remission. Her doctors recommended a couple more months of treatment, just to be safe.

Unfortunately, it was then that she started experiencing side effects from the immunotherapy. This meant she had to stop treatment, and the next step was radiation, then more surgery – this time to remove her adrenal gland.  It was risky, given the complications she experienced the last time – but thankfully, it went well.

“Here I am today, waiting to see what happens next,” Pauline smiles.

Pauline is a very resilient, pragmatic person, who talks about her cancer journey very matter-of-factly. But she admits that going from running businesses, travelling, and caring for her family to suddenly needing to wake up every day and deal with cancer treatment was difficult at times. 

“I’ve always had strength of character – in business, and in caring for my husband and daughter… But I had no idea the strength I’d need throughout this process. But for my family the strength had to be there. It was never about me,” she says.

“All I can think is, what I can do today. I don’t look at myself, because I know the journey is going to come to an end. I just think, ‘What can I do to help? Let’s look at the positives!’”

“So that’s where I’m focused. And I just thank God I’ve had these three years, so I know my husband and my daughter will be okay.”

Pauline hopes sharing her story will raise awareness of lung cancer, and inspire others to support research, new tests and treatments to help other people with lung cancer in the future. 

“Part of life is giving back, you don’t get anything unless you give back,” Pauline says.

“Cancer is not a death sentence any more, and it’s thanks to people like the Bendat family. Cancer treatments are coming along in leaps and bounds - they’re giving people like me more life.

“Anyone who can afford to give, it’s the best thing they could ever do. Because it’s about your children, your grandchildren – it’s about the future. It all goes down the line.”

We are so grateful for the philanthropic vision of the Bendat Family Foundation, and their support for people fighting cancer, through the BFCCC. Through their kindness, people like Pauline are able to access world-class, comprehensive care closer to home.

Image of Pauline Tew and family smiling on christmas day
Pictured: Pauline and her family celebrating Christmas together after 8 months of immunotherapy treatment
Image of Pauline Tew smiling with a grey blanket wrapped around her
Pictured: Pauline, happy to be home after a long 56 day stint in hospital.

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at St John of God Subiaco Hospital

Your donation today will help support a new screening study for early detection of lung cancer. Researchers believe that by reviewing CT scans that are already being performed at radiology centres for other reasons, they will be able to detect lung cancer earlier, and in turn, improve treatment outcomes and prognosis for patients like Pauline.

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