“I was already feeling vulnerable just having cancer. And then to have COVID-19 worries on top of that, it makes you feel even more vulnerable. It’s scary.”
- Emma, 44-year-old mother with breast cancer.
Emma is a schoolteacher and a single mother of two teenagers. She loves her job and going on outdoor adventures with her kids, such as exploring rockpools at the beach and going on hikes.
But in February this year, her busy life was about to change. Shockingly, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, then soon afterwards, COVID-19 hit Victoria.
Since COVID-19 escalated, people like Emma who are facing cancer are experiencing an even greater sense of isolation. She needed to call someone trustworthy for support, and thanks to generous Victorians, she could call the nurses at 13 11 20.
“I told the nurse how I was overwhelmed with everything happening so quickly and I felt like I just couldn’t catch my breath. She was just so great,” said Emma.
Emma and her two kids – Lachlan and Paige.
Once Emma was diagnosed with cancer, she had surgery within two weeks, and sadly more cancer was found.
“It’s like an octopus with tentacles – there were two further cancerous lumps inside five centimetres of cancerous cells,” she explained.
She spent several weeks at home resting following her surgery; but just as Emma was due to start radiotherapy, COVID-19 escalated.
“It’s like a double hit. You’re already feeling isolated and your whole world is turned upside down, then with COVID-19, you worry about what you might touch. It doubles the feelings of isolation and vulnerability.”
Still in recovery and scared of what might happen if she catches COVID-19, Emma had to make some very tough choices, like not seeing her kids to limit her risk.
“They were worried about me contracting COVID-19. I couldn’t see my kids for three weeks. It was just awful.”
Emma feels anxious not only about attending her radiotherapy treatment at the hospital, but also about travelling there – due to strict travel restrictions in Victoria.
“In the first three weeks, I had friends coming over and doing the gardening, and I had a meal service,” said Emma.
But then, COVID-19 hit Victoria, and very quickly Emma’s friends began physically distancing – to protect Emma and themselves. Suddenly, her busy life had come to a halt, and she was alone.
“My life was just so busy, so full – and then, in a heartbeat, all of a sudden, I was by myself,” said Emma.
“I was really overwhelmed and just thought ‘I’m going to ring Cancer Council’.”
Emma says calling 13 11 20 helped her feel less vulnerable and alone, and she was surprised to find out how much support the nurses were able to offer her.
“One of my biggest concerns was actually my finances. My kids had just started school and I just thought ‘how am I going to afford this?’. They sent me lots of information which was so invaluable,” explained Emma.
Emma and her two kids also received a grocery voucher to help lighten the financial burden.
“Having the grocery voucher meant that I didn't have to be so careful with food, and we could actually buy some nice things,” said Emma.
Thanks to the generosity of Victorians, Emma and her kids were able to enjoy some special time together at home in the kitchen.
“My son wanted to make a prosciutto pizza and it was so much fun. It was the best weekend we've had in weeks and weeks.”
Emma also says she struggled to tell her kids that she had cancer without upsetting them.
“They also helped me with how to talk to my kids about my cancer, and what to discuss with their schools,” said Emma.
“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,” says Emma.
Thanks to the support of generous Victorians, Emma is getting through this tough period one day at a time.
“It really has meant the world, not just for me but for my family. And it really has allowed me to focus on healing and getting better.”
During this difficult time, will you please give support services and ensure people with cancer during COVID-19 don’t feel so scared and vulnerable?