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Cancer Support during Covid-19

Thursday 10 February, 2022

With a surge of COVID-19 cases throughout the community and conditions changing rapidly, it’s a critical time for Cancer Council Victoria to provide support for people affected by cancer.

The number of COVID-19 related calls to our 13 11 20 Information and Support line continue to increase. During the first three weeks of 2022, more than 17 per cent of calls were COVID-19 related. 

“People are worried about getting COVID-19 and how their treatment may be affected, they’re self-isolating, have questions about the vaccine and how to access tests, and are struggling to find support services including mental health support, said Angela Cahill, 13 11 20 nurse manager. 

These issues, coupled with the recent Code Brown emergency called in Victorian hospitals has resulted in heightened stress and anxiety for many of the people we support. 

“We’d like to reassure people that while hospitals are under pressure, people affected by cancer continue to receive cancer treatments,” said Angela.

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, our cancer nurses have remained only a phone call away for people affected by cancer, to provide support, information and reassurance.

Kathrine, a mother of two, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2018 and was naturally concerned when COVID-19 was first declared a pandemic.

“I’ve been very scared of getting it,” she said. “In the beginning, because no one knew anything about it, it was really scary. It was like, “well if cancer doesn’t get me, COVID’s going to”.

Now in remission, Kathrine takes an oral medication called a PARP inhibitor and meets with her specialists every four months. Her medication means she’s immunocompromised. 

Kathrine’s been as prepared as she can be with the Omicron variant spreading around the world, having had her recommended three primary vaccinations. However, in early January, Kathrine and her two sons tested positive for COVID-19. 

“I didn’t even have any idea that I was coming down with it,” she said. “I was just freaking out because my son was getting tested. The day after he tested positive, I started to come down with the scratchy throat and a slight headache.

“When I woke up the next day, I knew for sure I had it, but I did two Rapid Antigen tests, and both came back negative.” 

Not feeling well enough to wait in line for a PCR test, Kathrine first called the COVID-19 hotline, but couldn’t get through, so then tried her GP for advice.

“Most of the testing sites in my area, you’re either waiting six hours or they’re closed, and I wasn’t in a position to be able to wait that long,” she said.

“I rang the GP thinking, how am I going to get myself tested? I can’t even stand up.” 

The person answering the phones at the GP was unable to offer advice and so Kathrine rang Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 information and support line. 

“The nurses are awesome,” she said. “They’re easy to talk to and they help with almost any question you have. The fact that they rang again with a follow up call was very much appreciated.”

Having tested positive for COVID-19, Katherine isolated at home and had a follow up appointment with her cancer specialist. She experienced a sore throat, fatigue, fever, headache, body aches and congestion, but overall, her symptoms were manageable at home with paracetamol, plenty of fluids and rest.  

Cancer Council Victoria is aware of the pressure on acute health services. Our 13 11 20 Information and Support line can assist by taking non-urgent, general enquiries and will direct people to their treating teams or GP where necessary. 

Anyone on active treatment or immunocompromised who tests positive to COVID-19 is urged to advise your treating team as soon as possible as it may affect your treatment.  

It’s with thanks to you, our valued supporters that our cancer nurses continue to offer information, financial, practical, and emotional support, as well as education and advocacy on behalf of Victorians affected by cancer and their health care teams. 

To get the facts on all things cancer and COVID-19 visit our COVID hub or call 13 11 20.

A donation of $60 can make one of our nurses available to answer any question about cancer and provide support via 13 11 20.