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“Lost and alone”: The emotional and mental health impacts of navigating cancer during a global pandemic

Having the support of loved ones and counsellors or psychologists while undergoing cancer treatment can make all the difference to a person’s emotional and mental health. Yet as a report from Cancer Council Victoria and The Daffodil Centre discovered, a concerning number of Victorians living with cancer haven’t been able to access mental health support through the pandemic and beyond.

The ‘Cancer, COVID-19 + You’ report found COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the cancer experience in Victoria. Already an emotionally distressing time, the pandemic and associated restrictions, including not being allowed to have friends and family attend treatment, saw around 30% of all calls to Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 Cancer Support Line being made for emotional support.

Similarly, health services and people affected by cancer reported increasing wait times for hospital and community-based psychology services due to the demand for support during the pandemic.

In response, Cancer Council introduced a Nurse Counselling service, building our capacity to provide dedicated emotional support for people affected by cancer alongside psychology-led services. Since its inception in March 2022 until December 2022, the service received 172 referrals and conducted 316 sessions.

Rose was amongst the first callers to the Nurse Counselling service. Being diagnosed with breast cancer, she found navigating treatment alone to be incredibly stressful.

“I was scared to go into a hospital setting where … I couldn’t have family support,” she said. “There was an enormous amount of anxiety.”

This research confirms that there is a strong need for more emotional and mental health support within our community and we are now looking to increase capacity for our Nurse Counselling service.

Read the full report on our website: www.cancervic.org.au/about/policy-and-advocacy/cancer-covid-19-you-2022-research

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