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Life lessons from people who’ve faced death: Alisha Gooley

7 minute read
alisha gooley from the Mark Hughes Foundation at work as a brain cancer coordinator

It’s the great irony that most of us never really appreciate life until we’re faced with death, so what can we learn from those who’ve been closest to it?

It’s a question we put to an eclectic group of people with a few key similarities – they’re all brave, strong and resilient and have seen first-hand the fragility of human existence.

This week as part of our series on life lessons, we spoke with Brain Cancer Care Coordinator at the Mark Hughes Foundation, Alisha Gooley.

This is her story.

TCU: Can you please tell us a bit about you?

Alisha: After spending time working as an Oncology nurse, last year I was offered a position with the Mark Hughes Foundation as its Brain Cancer Care Coordinator. In this role, I assist brain cancer patients in the Hunter region and beyond to navigate their appointments, provide advice, help them find support groups and clinical trials and just lend an ear if they need to talk.

One person is diagnosed with brain cancer every five hours in Australia and only 20% of patients will survive for at least five years. It’s an incredibly underfunded disease, something that the Mark Hughes Foundation works tirelessly to change.

My professional and personal life tends to be intertwined. I take my work phone home with me as I think it’s so important to be available to patients and their families particularly if they are unwell and looking for advice. I spend hours with patients and their loved ones and it’s impossible not to have an emotional connection with them and their families – we’re going through such a personal journey together.

I try and ‘switch off’ by spending time with my husband and our two huge dogs. We try and spend weekends away camping. I play soccer on the weekends and my husband Matt and I are part of the G2 ward touch football team which is great fun!

TCU: You work with people who are facing death every day. How does this affect your emotional and mental state?

Alisha: I don’t think this is the type of role I could do for the next 20 or 30 years, simply because it is such an emotionally-intense environment. There’s currently no cure for brain cancer and unlike many other cancers, the treatment options haven’t really progressed.

Although I see a lot of pain, I also see a lot of hope and love every day. I think some people could leave this industry disillusioned and discouraged, however this role makes me truly grateful and appreciative for what I have.

Because I’ve been in the role for less than a year, I can’t definitively say that it gets easier over time, but I hope so.

TCU: How has your experience with work changed the way you perceive dying?

Alisha: I think when I’m close to dying, the thing I’ll be most concerned about are the people I love that I’m leaving behind – my family and friends.

TCU: Is it easier for you to talk about death and mortality now that you confront it regularly?

Alisha: It is easier to have conversations about death and the moments that lead to death. I talk with my grandparents and family members about dying and their wishes. It doesn’t have to be an entirely sad time, it can also be an opportunity to plan what they want to do between now and then – places to visit, things to see, memories to write down.

Credit: nib Health Insurance

TCU: What are some of the biggest misconceptions people might have about dying?

Alisha: I think we often assume that dying is a selfish experience, a time we spend wondering ‘what am I going to miss?’; in fact it’s the opposite. The biggest worry is whether or not your family and friends will be OK.

TCU: If you had to pass on one piece of advice to others about life and death, what would it be?

Alisha: It’s so clichéd, but it’s important to remember that we’ve all only got one shot at this life. Do what makes you happy, be kind to one another and appreciate the little things in your day-to-day life – you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

Want more? Check out our series on Life Lessons on The Check Up.

Life doesn’t always go to plan, so it might be time to consider taking out a life insurance policy. nib offers a number of options to suit your individual situation. Get a quote online today.

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