At 40 years old, Natusha Bennett is about to begin her dream career as a nurse. She will bring to the job a life experience that even many her age couldn’t match.
Natusha has been working as a registered undergraduate student of nursing (RUSON) in the Sunshine Hospital COVID ward throughout much of her course. That on its own would be confronting for any student, but Natusha has also been going through chemotherapy over the same period of time. And her own diagnosis came just 18 months after the death of her younger brother from cancer.
On top of living with cancer through COVID, her study and her RUSON work, Natusha has also been juggling her other full-time job: raising three children – for the past 18 months, as a single parent!
It’s her kids who keep her motivated, she says, along with wanting to make the most of the second chance she’s been given; the second chance her brother didn’t get.
‘We did a rushed wedding for him and his partner because his cancer wasn’t playing by the rules,’ she says. ‘But they never got to have the kids that they wanted so badly. I can’t dwell on that, but he didn’t get that chance I have. So for me going into nursing, I really feel like I can make a difference because I’ve got a lot of life experience.’
A dream since childhood
Natusha had wanted to be a nurse since childhood. Life got in the way, however, and she had never prioritised her career. When her youngest started school, Natusha thought ‘now’s my chance’ but after just a semester she discovered she was pregnant with her third child so she deferred. When she eventually re-started her studies she did so with a four-month-old in tow.
‘And that was just the beginning,’ she says.
Five months after her daughter was born, and one month after starting her course, Natusha’s brother received his diagnosis. He was 28, and the cancer was stage 4. Natusha spent much of that first year of university sitting with him – and her study notes, and an infant – at Peter Mac while he was having chemo, keeping him company when his wife was unable to be by his side.
‘That was pretty depressing and hard,’ she says. It was so depressing, in fact, that study became her outlet. It gave her something else to focus on, ‘something away from the illness.’
When her own diagnosis came the following year, the world was just beginning to grapple with a globe-changing pandemic. ‘Everything happened pretty quick,’ Natusha recalls. ‘A month after being diagnosed, I had my surgery. Then lockdown began: I remember the first day of homeschooling I couldn’t even sit in a chair, it was that soon after surgery.’
Chemo on placement
Six months of chemotherapy followed. Unfortunately, this meant that Natusha was going through chemo while on placement – in Castlemaine, an hour’s drive from home. Each way. With three children at home and limited childcare options, staying in Castlemaine for the duration of her placement wasn’t possible. ‘That was pretty intense,’ she says. ‘I was so scared of not getting through the placement.’
Her next placement was in Ballarat, also an hour’s drive each way.
Far from letting any of these obstacles stop her, Natusha persevered. She graduates this month, and will begin her graduation year in May at Werribee Mercy – after she’s got the kids settled back into school and been on her first holiday in nine years!
Meanwhile, her medical prognosis is positive, with ‘everything looking good’ at her most recent CT.
She hopes her story can inspire others. Some of us don’t get a second chance, she says, ‘but if you do just go for it. I’m 40 and going into a new career. You may as well make the most of the chance(s) you get.’