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The heart of healthcare

Friday 13 November, 2020

13 11 20 nurses 2019

Photo: Cancer Council Victoria's 13 11 20 cancer nurses, December 2019

For more than 30 years, Cancer Council Victoria has provided information and support to cancer patients, as well as friends, family and anyone affected by cancer.

Today on 13/11/20 (also our phone number), we’re stopping to acknowledge and celebrate the amazing work that our nurses do – to thank them for their empathy, dedication, care and compassion.

Thank you for being there

Well-deserved messages of support from Martin Foley, Minister for Health and Ambulance Services, Professor Grant McArthur, Executive Director, VCCC, Todd Harper, CEO, Cancer Council Victoria and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre's David Speakman, Chief Medical Officer and Jac Mathieson, Chief Nursing Officer.

Click image to play video.

Victorian Health Minister

They assured me I wasn't alone

"Through no fault of my family or friends, I felt so isolated. I felt so alone. I had a cry to myself and tried to think positively.  I remembered that when my Granny had been sick, the hospital gave us the details for Cancer Council’s phone line – 13 11 20. 

"I went outside and called them. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember crying.  A lot. I remember babbling about being scared and not knowing what was going to happen.

"I don’t really remember what that poor person on the other end of the phone said to me, but it calmed me down. 

"They reassured me that I wasn’t alone in all this and that I was supported by the best doctors, with the best research and the best medical teams.

"I think the most calming thing of all was having that support there just to unload on.  I hadn’t wanted to let my guard down at home, my daughter was scared enough and seeing me loose it wasn’t going to help her.  My partner was fantastic, but he was scared too, and we were both so busy trying to be strong for each other and for my daughter that we didn’t let our fear have a voice. 

"When I finally gave it a voice, to the nurses at Cancer Council Victoria, it was like an enormous weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I could breathe.” Jo-Anne, cancer survivor.

  Jo-Anne cancer survivor

Photo: 45-year-old mother Jo-Anne was diagnosed with a very rare cancer. Treatment involved a 10-hour surgery to remove the tumours from her right sinus cavity.

Our history

Doreen Akkerman

Photo: Doreen Akkerman, Director Cancer Information and Support Services, 1990-2010 (right)

Cancer Council Victoria has a proud history of supporting people affected by cancer. We were the first in Australia to set up a formal cancer information service in 1984. Over the next three years, enquiries increased to 120 per day – demonstrating a clear need.

In 1990, Doreen Akkerman AM, was appointed to expand the service, having set up similar ones in Singapore and Canada.

The new service was staffed by nurses and nurse counsellors, backed by an advisory panel comprising volunteer oncologists and surgeons and a database providing details of services and agencies. By 1991, nurses were responding to 30,000 calls from Victorians affected by cancer.  

Thanks to generous grants, by 1994, ‘Can-Help’ (short for Cancer Helpline) was permanently established.

Doreen Akkerman AM, as Director of Cancer Information and Support Services (CISS), dedicated 20 years in support of Victorians and retired in 2010.

"I know the enormous difference that the Cancer Information and Support Service makes to people affected by cancer and I have seen it vastly grow over the years," said Doreen.

"We walk a little way with people through their cancer journey, provide up-to-date credible information and link people to services to help them adjust to life with cancer."

Over the years, our dedicated information and support team has responded to more than 850,000 requests for cancer support – an extraordinary record of life-changing care.

Fast forward to today

Katherine Lane, who is the Head of our Cancer Information and Support Services team, first began work at Cancer Council Victoria as a cancer nurse on 13 11 20 in 2011.

“It’s not an easy job, but it’s an enormously rewarding one,” Katherine said.

“Most of our nurses are practicing oncology nurses, working in various specialities across the public and private sector. They dedicate time with callers to carry out supportive care screening assessment and guide complex discussions around diagnosis, treatment, survivorship and palliative care.

“Our nurses tailor emotional and practical support to each person’s situation, help people to navigate the healthcare system and refer them, not only to our own programs, but to more than 470 community services listed in our directory across Victoria.

“Sometimes people just want to talk with someone who’s able to listen, this can be just as important as anything else.”

Katherine Lane 13 11 20

Photo: Katherine Lane, head of Cancer Information and Support Services.

Impact of COVID-19

Angela Cahill, manager of 13 11 20 said 2020 had been equally challenging and rewarding, as the COVID-19 pandemic increased the volume and complexity of enquires from people feeling anxious and isolated.

“Our nurses have responded to an average of 180 to 220 calls per week and overall, we’re up five percent on the same time last year,” Angela said. “Approximately half identified COVID-19 as the primary reason for contact.

“Concerns have included anxiety around attending and travelling to appointments - especially for regional patients, carers not being able to attend appointments with loved ones, hospital visitor restrictions and fears of patients dying alone. 

“This has meant the length and complexity of calls have increased to a peak average of over 19 minutes and we’re seeing higher level of reported distress with 80% of connections describing their distress as moderate (30%) to severe (50%).”

Chelsey nurse 13 11 20

Photo: Chelsey Upton, 13 11 20 team leader.

Chelsey Upston, one of our 13 11 20 team leaders, said she was proud of the resilience of the nurses who stood firm this year to help people during an extraordinary time of great need.

“I find it a privilege to be able to empower people to take control of their life when at times, they might feel like they are out of control,” said Chelsey. “I love being a listening ear, helping them feel heard and understood.

“Sometimes we’re taking difficult calls where people are really challenged in their life, but I just look at it as an opportunity to support that person at that critical time.”

All this work wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of Victorians, who fund our 13 11 20 service.  It’s a crucial support for people when they’re feeling afraid, anxious and alone. We couldn’t be prouder of our nurses and the difference they’re making each day.

Messages from Victorians

Please enjoy our gallery of photos and messages from some of the people our nurses have helped.

Click on the images to enlarge them and view captions.

Note: these images were taken before physical distancing and lockdown measures were put in place.