A chronic shortage of family members and close friends who have cared for someone with cancer has prompted the Cancer Council to call for volunteers and reduce the feelings of isolation attached with such care.
We recognise that 67% of Victorians fighting cancer don't even have it; family members, partners and close friends often go through the cancer journey with the patient, leaving them potentially vulnerable and alone.
That's why the Cancer Council Victoria is urgently calling on family members, partners and close friends who have cared for someone with cancer to join the Family Cancer Connect program and provide telephone support to other Victorians providing similar care.
Jenny's cancer journey is a clear example of the harsh and emotional side effects that dealing with cancer can bring... and she wasn't even the patient.
After her daughter was diagnosed with Ewings sarcoma on her 17th birthday, she underwent treatment for 18 months.
"The experience had a massive impact on our family. You don't realise how devastating it is until you go through it", Jenny said.
Seven years later, Jenny is thankful that she still has her daughter and had the peer support at the other end of the phone when she dialled 13 11 20 all those years ago.
"You need peer support and the opportunity to talk to someone who has gone through a similar thing and who has been trained to offer one-to-one support. You need to talk to someone without feeling like you are burdening those close to you," she said.
"I joined Cancer Connect because I felt like I could help somebody and I knew how much peer support helped me. Friends can offer support but it is difficult for them to relate and really comprehend what you are going through.
"My advice is to try it!"
Jenny's story highlights the importance of the Cancer Council Helpline and the benefits associated with speaking to a peer who has been through a similar situation.
Dr Amanda Hordern, Deputy Director of the Information & Support Service, said that the Family Cancer Connect program can help reduce feelings of social isolation that can come with having a family member who needs care whilst experiencing cancer.
"Thousands of people in regional Victoria and throughout the state are unpaid carers and go through the experience feeling isolated and socially disconnected," she said.
"That's why it is so important that there is support for family members, partners and close friends of someone with cancer.
"Family Cancer Connect is the only service in the state to offer support to young and old carers and there has been a marked increase in the service," she said.
Our research shows that there is insufficient awareness of the free information and support we provide to the community and as a result it's imperative that we increase the awareness of the Cancer Council Helpline.
In 2008, the Cancer Council Helpline took more than 4, 600 calls from family and friends affected by cancer, with this campaign for support expected to increase that number in 2009.
The call for support also coincides with a spate of non-paid print advertising being undertaken by the Cancer Council, raising awareness of the support available through 13 11 20, including peer to peer support such as the Family Cancer Connect program.
"Jack's an amazing man, he's had to overcome ovarian cancer" is one of many print ads that demonstrate the challenges one may face when supporting a family member with cancer.
Cancer Connect volunteers feature prominently throughout the campaign, with print ads this week set to complement previous billboard, shopalite and broadcast ads that have been running since the start of this year.
Siblings and adult children who have cared for their parents with cancer are also strongly encouraged to take up this opportunity and join Family Cancer Connect.
Participants in the program must be a carer of someone with cancer who are at least 2 years post treatment or bereavement and a maximum 10 years post treatment or bereavement, and who are interested in sharing their cancer experience with others.
Costs incurred to participate in the program will be reimbursed to make volunteer opportunity more inclusive to people living in rural and regional areas.
Volunteers should call 13 11 20 Monday-Friday, 8:30am-6pm or
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest
Dr Amanda Hordern available for comment / contact Tim Coghlan on 03 9635 5262 or 0431 150 365