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Distress calls to Cancer Council’s information and support line quadruple amid COVID-19 restrictions

Thursday 27 August, 2020

Distress calls from cancer patients worried about COVID-19 to Cancer Council Victoria nurses have quadrupled since the beginning of the pandemic.

New data released by Cancer Council Victoria today has revealed that up to 29 per cent of callers to Cancer Council’s information and support line 13 11 20 in August experienced high emotion, anxiety and stress related to COVID, compared with 7 per cent in the week before the pandemic. Calls related to feelings of isolation, difficulty attending appointments due to border closures, anxiety about delays to upcoming surgery and concern for family members who weren’t allowed visitors in hospital. In July and August, there was an increase in calls related to suicidal thoughts.

Head of Cancer Information and Support Services Katherine Lane said the number of increasingly distressed callers was extremely concerning. “We don’t yet know the full impact of COVID on those affected by cancer, but we do know that more cancer patients and their loved ones are experiencing severe anxiety and distress in isolation. Now more than ever we need to ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities are given the support they need,” she said.

“We encourage anyone who is affected by cancer and worried about the current situation surrounding COVID-19 to call Cancer Council’s information and support line 13 11 20.”

Pam Withers was diagnosed with bowel cancer with liver metastasis on March 4, shortly before Stage 1 restrictions were implemented in Victoria. Feeling nervous and emotional, she reached out to the nurses at 13 11 20. “At the moment, you’re not allowed to take any support people into the hospital with you, whether it’s for tests or chemotherapy or anything else. My husband came with me for the first two or three treatments, but then the pandemic got worse and he wasn’t allowed to come anymore,” she said. “Initially it’s quite daunting, but as you go through your treatment you get to know people and the nurses are always fabulous which makes it a little bit easier.”

Every year, more than 35,200 Victorians are diagnosed with cancer; more than 11,000 will die from the disease. Thanks to research, five-year cancer survival increased 20 per cent since 1988. But research funding will be impacted as a result of COVID.

Head of Fundraising and Communications Lisa Kastaniotis explained why it was so important to continue investing in research, even during a pandemic. “Amazing advancements have been made in cancer prevention, screening and treatment, meaning that more people than ever before are surviving a cancer diagnosis. However, we know that less funding will be available for research due to the current climate, so it’s more important than ever that we continue funding the work of our researchers,” she said.

“We rely on the generosity of community donations to help us fund this work. By donating online today, Victorians can help fund vital cancer research that is saving lives every day.”

Cancer Council Victoria has funded $69 million worth of research conducted in universities, hospitals and research institutions since 2003, making the organisation the largest not-for-profit funder of cancer research in Victoria.

The Daffodil Day Appeal is raising funds for Cancer Council’s life-saving cancer research throughout the month of August. It will culminate in Daffodil Day on Friday 28, August 2020. Donate online today to support life-saving cancer research.

For more information or to donate, visit or call 1300 65 65 85.