Cancer counsellor Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar.
Cancer counsellor Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar. Adam Hourigan

Personal tragedy inspires Gabrielle's caring career

DECIDING on a career path can be a confusing process, one that may take years of aimless study and temporary jobs to really discover what your calling is.

This was how former Grafton girl Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar's was tracking until personal tragedy set her on a course that would not only change her life forever but also those who came in contact with her.

Gabrielle is a cancer counsellor and psychotherapist, a member of the Cancer Counselling Professionals endorsed by the Cancer Council of NSW, the only therapist affiliated with the council in the North Coast region, including Lismore and Coffs Harbour.

In simpler terms, Gabrielle specialises in counselling for cancer patients and their families and carers and, after several years practising in Sydney, she has brought her wealth of experience and expertise in the field back home to Grafton.

Gabrielle said her career in counselling came about after her own devastating loss of husband Veit (who she met in Germany) in 1998 to leukaemia when they were still very young.

"We had only just moved back to Australia," Gabrielle said.

"He was only 23 and I was in my mid-20s.

 "I had to see a counsellor myself after that and was blown away by how powerful it could be.

"It was such a relief to make sense in all that grief and chaos and I thought it would be amazing to be part of that process."

Gabrielle said it took a little while to find her feet and follow through.

She had previously completed a communications and fine arts honours degree, but the impression that counsellor made resonated enough for her to study and complete a graduate diploma in counselling and psychotherapy. She was awarded Dux of her class.

After volunteering for Lifeline, Gabrielle then got the opportunity of a lifetime after spotting an advertisement for a position with the Cancer Council.

She then spent six years in Sydney working as a phone facilitator and counselling cancer patients.

"There were two of us (counsellors) sitting in an office in Sydney and we would have a small group of patients on speaker phone. We could all share in this private space together. A lot of patients are too sick to get out of bed and travel, or live in remote locations so this was a way to bring them together," she said.

Gabrielle counselled different groups including those suffering from those less-talked-about cancers like bowel and lung, as well as families and carers.

"There is a deep and practical wisdom with people who are living it and those who are terminal. They have a lot to talk about and so much insider knowledge. I have learned from that myself," she said.

"It was never that dry textbook stuff.

"They were gutsy people, many terminal, and sometimes there was an awful reality to it, but there were also joyous moments.


"Although I never met them face-to-face, I did get to know them, and sadly had to say goodbye too."

Now back in her hometown where she once attended Grafton infants, primary and high schools, Gabrielle has set up a private practice specialising in cancer patient counselling and psychotherapy.

"The human brain is rigged to be negative so helping someone to find a new course within their family or a relationship is really beneficial, whoever you are," she said.

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