Vale Cheryl Pirreca

In 2011, Cheryl, a local Sutherland Shire woman, and mother of three and grandmother of six was diagnosed with a rare head and neck cancer.
Following her diagnosis, Cheryl was successfully treated at St George Hospital. Unfortunately, as a result of the treatment, Cheryl had side effects that would affect her quality of life.

“I had difficulty swallowing, the only food I could eat was pureed. It was awful. I couldn’t go out with friends and share special times with my family. I lost my independence, my confidence and my social life. It was like being told I had cancer all over again.”

Cheryl was referred to the Swallow Clinic at St George Hospital and was treated by Professor Ian Cook and A/Prof Julia Maclean.
During this time the Swallow Clinic was conducting world-leading research into the side effects for people with head and neck cancers, offering real solutions for these patients.
That’s when we met Cheryl. Cheryl was asked, and whole heartily said yes to participate in research while undergoing her treatment at the Swallow Clinic.
The research discovered that 59% of patients treated had swallowing problems. However most disturbing was that only half of these patients sought help for the condition. This is despite the fact that 20% of patients treated with radiotherapy had died as a result of complications from their swallowing dysfunction and many more had their quality of life severely impacted.

There was a remarkable change in Cheryl’s quality of life. The doctors at the Clinic gave her back her confidence.
“I now understand why research is so important. My doctors are also researchers and they are the world’s best at solving the problem I had. Now I’m eating solid food again. I can go out to dinner and enjoy my time with friends and family. Research gave me my confidence and quality of life back”.

Following Cheryl’s participation in the research she became a staunch advocate for SSMRF, attending events and sharing her personal experience and the impact research had on her life.
Her commitment and passion for the Foundation will never be forgotten. Cheryl’s involvement in research at SSMRF has helped staff to secure further competitive research grants leading to a greater understanding about the assessment and treatment of swallowing problems following head and neck cancer.
Sadly, Cheryl’s cancer returned and after a long struggle – she passed away on January 1, 2020 this year.
In honour of her memory and to continue her passion for supporting research in our hospitals, Cheryl’s husband Sonny and her family asked friends and family to donate to the Foundation.
We take this opportunity to thank her for her generosity, support and commitment to raising awareness of the importance of research and how this benefits the local St George and Sutherland Shire community…and beyond.
We send our love and thanks to her husband Sonny, and to her family and friends.