Living in rural and remote Australia can bring additional challenges for women with breast cancer, especially around access to treatment. You may find that, if you want to stay home where you can be close to your support network, your treatment options are limited. This can leave you with a difficult decision: 'Do I choose treatments I can access locally, even if it means not having other treatments that are recommended, or do I leave home and family to have treatment in another town or city?'
"If you live 300 or 3,000 miles or more from treatment centres the issues are basically the same. Leaving your home, family and friends, that important network which supports you is shattering. Being alone in a place you are not familiar with and people who are strangers is so hard. It makes the breast cancer journey all the more difficult. I felt so alone." --Judy
There can be other challenges too. Travelling for treatment can put an additional strain on your finances. On top of the cost of travel, accommodation and living expenses while you are away from home, you may have to take time off work for treatment and appointments, or even give up work altogether. If you have young children, the cost and availability of child care can be an issue. The logistics of setting up support for your family while you are away can also be daunting.
There is some practical assistance available, including:
- Find out if there is a Breast Care Nurse in your area and/or your treating hospital and make sure they know of your diagnosis so you can get some practical and emotional support.
- Patient Assisted Travel Schemes provide financial assistance to help with the cost of travel and accommodation for treatment, although the amounts paid are often inadequate. The Patient Assisted Travel Scheme fact sheet provides more information about how PATS operates in your state or territory.
- Ask your Breast Care Nurse, hospital social worker, GP or Cancer Helpline (13 11 20) what financial and practical assistance may be available in your local area.
- Telstra Priority Assistance is a service for people diagnosed with cancer who live in remote areas of Australia. It offers priority repairs on any faults to the line, whether you're a Telstra customer or not. Call 13 22 00 for more information.
- VISE Angels (Volunteers for Isolated Students' Education) provide domestic and personal support in the case of illness or if respite is required. You can find out more by visiting the VISE Angels website or by emailing email@example.com.
- Angel Flight is a charity which coordinates non-emergency flights for people in medical and financial need. Bookings must be made by a health professional, so talk to your doctor if you think you may benefit from this service. More information about Angel Fight is available on the Angel Flight website.
Tips from other rural women
- Try to organise several appointments for one trip.
- Take any forms that need signing by your medical team so you don't need to post them.
- If you are having radiotherapy treatment away from home in week long blocks, try to make your appointments as early as possible on Fridays and as late as possible on Mondays to give yourself more time at home.
- Take a supply of creams to apply when you have finished your radiotherapy treatment for the day. Apply prior to getting dressed and travelling home.
- If you are travelling somewhere unfamiliar, take a map with you.
- See if a friend can attend appointments with you or, if there is no-one available, consider asking a Breast Care Nurse or a local Breast Cancer Support Volunteer to go with you.
- Let your support people know that you may not be up for sightseeing or shopping after appointments and that you may prefer to head straight home.
- If you're not feeling well or if there is even a remote possibility of receiving news you don't want to hear, make sure you take a friend who can drive with you. Consider staying overnight if you have to drive yourself.
- Take pillows in the car to rest your arm or head.
- Make contact with a support group or person near your treating hospital so you can share your experiences with other people who have been through breast cancer. You can also call the Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20 to find a support group in your area.
Breast Care Nurses
Your local Breast Care Nurse can be a wealth of information and support for you and your family, and can help with:
- liaising with your medical team and coordinating your appointments
- explaining treatments to you and your family
- attending medical appointments with you
- advising on and organising accommodation if you are travelling for treatment
- helping you to manage side effects of treatments, including treating radiotherapy burns
- helping you to talk to your family about your diagnosis
- arranging for someone to come in to your home to provide practical help, eg housework
- linking you to support services in your local area
- providing emotional support
- providing information on breast prostheses and breast reconstruction
Ask your doctor, phone the Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20 or enquire at your local hospital or community centre for details of a Breast Care Nurse near you.
- My Journey Kit Information Guide has a section of Information for Women in Rural Areas.
- The Beacon issue 51 (Winter 2010) explores the challenges faced by women in rural areas who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Download the Patient Assisted Travel Scheme fact sheet.
- The personal stories section includes stories from women with breast cancer who live in rural or remote Australia.
- Join our online network if you think that talking to others online and sharing experiences will help.