We strive to support people going through cancer, to empower them to focus on getting through treatment and on living well.
We spoke with Allie about her experiences living with cancer and the financial assistance we were able to provide her. This is her story.
At the beginning of 2021, life was coming together. I was engaged, passionate about my work, offered a dream role that would finally allow us to save for our own house and had a circle of friends whom I considered an extension of our family.
Throughout my career I have been privileged to support people through challenging times in their life. In early March of 2021, it was me who would be facing the most challenging time in my life. I had a GP appointment before work and my friendly and chatty doctor had a different demeanour. The silence was deafening.
The door closed, we sat down and immediately she said “I’m so sorry Allie, it’s not good. You have cancer and it’s aggressive”. She leant into her chair with a heavy motion with tears welling in her eyes. “…what do you mean?”, I asked. “We need to immediately refer you to a cancer specialist”, she replied. Due to financial struggles, I was referred to the public system in the hopes of easing my financial stressors.
I left confused and stunned – the moment my car door closed, a flood of tears erupted and my thoughts started to spiral. When I told my partner, he dashed home to comfort me. When I told my closest friends, I lost a few. I was told by one that they ‘don’t do cancer’ and never heard from them again. A friendship I thought would last a lifetime, gone just like that. My loss was compounded.
Financial despair meets compassion
Due to needing to wait five weeks for an initial consult in the public system, and sitting with the knowledge of cancer inside my body – I decided to ask for a private referral.
What happened next devastated me. I had to turn down my job offer. A week later, our landlord gave us notice when rentals were non-existent because of the pandemic. Then it took its toll on my relationship. My focus should have been on my health, but instead I was worried about finances associated with receiving private care. My life was turned upside down. I now had to sell my car and relocate to live with family interstate. I felt demoralised.
Following the initial surgery, I was told they ‘got it all’. But six months later, during lockdown the cancer had returned. Not only was access to specialists a six-hour trip away, but the next surgery would be more aggressive and the treatment plan four years. A profound sense of loss consumed me. All I wanted to do was grieve, yet those around me struggled without the tools to support me.
A year after diagnosis, my body had undergone eleven different scans, five flights to the city, three surgeries, various treatments and the costs to ‘keep me alive’ continued to mount. When I was told of a cancer foundation offering financial assistance, I called and the meeting put me to tears. Already being a proud person, I had struggled to ask for this help and was then met with judgement about my occupation and age.
Many months later, I was due to leave for my fourth invasive surgery, when our neighbour Judy dropped in to visit. She suggested to call Cancer Council as they offer financial assistance for accommodation. Naturally, I felt apprehensive after my previous experience with the other organisation, but I trusted Judy’s guidance. So, the day before surgery, I called and spoke to Cancer Council’s client services team. They were kind, compassionate and spoke without judgement. They arranged financial assistance for my hotel, groceries and counselling costs. It overwhelmed me with gratitude. Far greater than financial support, Cancer Council showed me a resounding space of support and compassion.
You are not alone…
In my experience as a rural patient, without Cancer Council, my ability to access services would have been slower due to my financial constraints. I may not have gotten medical care as quickly as I did and may not have been able to share my story today.
As a cancer patient we need compassion and care delivered by the specialists we entrust and the people supporting us. My initial oncologist did not provide me this, so I found a new oncologist. The financial support from Cancer Council throughout my journey provided me the ability to change specialists and not feel stuck. They also made accessing major cities for surgeries possible. The financial burden is ever present, however Cancer Council has been pivotal in alleviating this stress.
When people around you ‘get on with living’, a cancer patient can be left behind. If someone you know is diagnosed, know that the words you say and how you show up can make the difference between feeling loved and feeling like a burden. Reach out and ask for help. The tools and guidance you gain, can help yourself and those you love to process a very traumatic time with compassion.
I am forever grateful to everyone who has ever donated to Cancer Council. Without it, the amazing team of people providing the varied services of care and support would not exist and people like myself would be lost. The support has been invaluable and I would never want anyone to walk this journey without choice or support due to finances or where you live.