Sandra Johnston had always dreamed of travelling. As a child she read Heidi and wanted to see Switzerland. But it was surviving a brain tumour that finally convinced her to take the leap.
“My parents died aged 42 and 52. So I wanted to get as much travelling as possible under my belt, just in case my life was also going to be short,” Sandra says. “My medical history hasn’t always been that terrific, and I’ve had a couple of taps on the shoulder where it could have gone one way or the other.”
Once she started, Sandra well and truly caught the travel bug. Today, she and husband Barry regularly pile into the caravan with their little French bulldog Amalie and set off to see another piece of Australia.
“We’ve done quite a few trips in the caravan. We intend to do even more this year, heading to the Kimberley in Western Australia and a few other places,” Sandra says.
“Prior to that we’d done a lot of travelling overseas. I felt that when we got into our 70s we could still toddle around Australia in the caravan, but maybe not go jet-setting around the world.”
While Sandra is feeling better than she has in years, she still knows how important it is to manage her health. Each day, she takes 15 different medications and has to make sure her scripts are maintained and up-to-date. To make it easier, Sandra uses My Health Record.
“I’ve had a lot of things going on in my life. I’m on a lot of medications and they change a fair bit,” she says. “It’s fantastic to have it all in one place."
“If I had to go to hospital in an emergency and was unconscious, I wouldn’t be able to share my medical history. For instance, I can’t have my blood pressure taken on my left arm. They wouldn’t know that.”
When you need care the most
Sandra knows better than most the value having of having your information in one place – her health history is a long and varied one. She’s had a total hysterectomy, a blood clot in her lung, a brain tumour, cataract surgery and a macular hole in her left eye, a total hip replacement and a heart attack.
Most recently, Sandra was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine screening 18 months ago.
“When they called me back to give me the results, we went down this really long passage,” Sandra says. “All of a sudden I thought: ‘This isn’t right. This isn’t where we normally go.’”
“I was in a panic. I don’t know how long we were there now but I just remember the doctor saying it’s breast cancer. You think: ‘This is a dream. I’m not really here. It all just feels a bit surreal.’”
If it wasn’t enough to deal with this shock news, Sandra then had to manage the treatment process. It meant that for every appointment she had to carry around a huge case filled with information – ultrasounds, blood test results, x-ray films and scans.
“We’re talking piles and piles of them,” she says. “But with My Health Record, the specialists can see everything in one place. I don’t have to remember.”
Preparing for the future
Sandra found out about My Health Record last year. She’s a member of the Gold Coast Primary Health Network Advisory Council and it came up in one of their meetings. What struck her the most was how handy it could be for the rest of her family.
“There are quite a few genetic things in my family,” she says. “I’m thinking how fortunate we are, going forward, now that my children and my grandchildren will be able to see everything that has gone on with my health.”
Sandra has a large family. She and Barry met when she was 15 years old, were married by 20 and had their first child when they were both 24. Today they’ve got three children, and 11 grandchildren ranging in age from 10 through to 24. Family dinner parties can mean about 20 people in the house.
As they ramp up their caravan travel this year, Sandra and Barry are planning to bring their grandchildren along for the ride.
“It’s really important for me to spend time with the grandkids and we’ve been on a few good excursions,” Sandra says. “At one stage we took three children under 10 down to Canberra, then the snow and finally to Victoria. We were away for three weeks. We just had the best time.”
But she wouldn’t dream of leaving without updating the kids’ My Health Record. For Sandra, it provides peace of mind – for her and for the grandkids.
“I know if we take them away, no matter where we are, people can just look on My Health Record and tell exactly what their allergies are or if they’ve had surgery,” she says.
“In a panic situation, I wouldn’t be able to think clearly. That’s where My Health Record helps. It’s just a huge relief.”