Nurses provide lifeline as need for cancer support surges

Friday 13 November, 2020

Victorians say thank you to 13 11 20 nurses to mark 13/11/20

Cancer Council nurses who have been on the frontline of our response to COVID are today being thanked for helping thousands of Victorians through its 13 11 20 information and support phone line as we mark a special date, the 13th November 2020 – or 13/11/20.

Cancer Council Victoria’s cancer nurses have seen a substantial increase in connections with the 13 11 20 Information and Support service throughout Victoria’s lockdown, increasing from an average of 180 to 220 calls per week, with approximately half identifying COVID-19 as the primary reason for their call. Altogether, the nurses have had 8,500 calls and emails already this year.

Danielle Spence, Head of Strategy and Support at Cancer Council Victoria, said the date of 13/11/20 provided an opportunity to stop and thank their cancer nurses at a time when the service they continue to provide is vital.

“Now, more than ever, people affected by cancer need emotional and practical support, as well as information about cancer treatments and how to navigate the health system,” Ms Spence said.

Ms Spence said the 13 11 20 nurses have reported a higher level of distress from callers, with 80% of connections describing their distress as moderate (30%) to severe (50%), with levels peaking in April and June, coinciding with lockdown announcements.

“Our nurses have described a shift in the calls they are receiving, with people expressing feelings of anxiety and isolation, culminating in longer and more complex calls during this time.”

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said the organisation is proud to provide invaluable information and support to anyone affected by cancer whether it’s patients, carers, loved ones or health professionals.

“Last year alone, people affected by cancer made over 10,000 contacts with our experienced nurses to get information, practical and emotional support or was referred to other support services,” Mr Harper said.

“Worryingly, the Victorian Cancer Registry reported a 12.5% decline in cancer pathology notifications from March to the end of September compared to last year, suggesting we could see a significant post-COVID ‘cancer surge’. This will further increase the need and place an even greater demand on supportive care services like 13 11 20 in the future.”

Emma, a breast cancer survivor, said of her experience with 13 11 20:

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February, just before COVID-19. I was getting so much help and support… then it all just stopped. You’re already feeling isolated with your whole world is turned upside down. With COVID-19, it doubles the feelings of isolation and

vulnerability. I was really overwhelmed with everything happening so quickly, my worries with my treatment and what might happen if I contracted COVID-19. When I hung up from that phone call, it was like this huge weight had been taken off my shoulders. The value in that one phone call I had was just incredible.”

Anyone affected by cancer who may need information or support is encouraged to contact Cancer Council Victoria’s cancer nurses on 13 11 20.