Whether you live 300 or 3,000 miles 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 is so hard. It makes the breast cancer journey all the more difficult. I felt so alone. – Judy
Do you live in a rural or remote part of Australia?
If so, you may face additional challenges during your breast cancer treatment, especially in terms of accessing treatment facilities and services.
Like many women from rural and remote parts of Australia, you may find that your treatment options are limited close to home. This can cause additional stress as you may have to decide whether to leave your home and family to have treatment in another town or city.
There can be other challenges too. Traveling 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 also be an issue. The logistics of setting up support for your family while you are away can also be daunting.
Some practical assistance is available. While you are considering your options, you may like to:
- Find out if there is a breast care nurse in your area and/or your treating hospital. Make sure she knows of your diagnosis so she can provide you with some practical and emotional support.
- Find out about Patient Assisted Travel Schemes (PATS). These schemes provide financial assistance to help with the cost of travel and accommodation for treatment. The Patient Assisted Travel Scheme fact sheet provides more information about how PATS operates in your state or territory. Your breast care nurse or hospital social worker can also help.
- If you need to be away from home for radiotherapy treatment, you may be able to access the Stay in Touch program offered at a number of sites around the country. The program provides ‘buddy’ laptops and access to mobile broadband so that families can catch up and talk via Skype.
- Ask your breast care nurse, hospital social worker, GP or Cancer Council (13 11 20) what financial and practical assistance may be available in your local area.
- Look into Telstra Priority Assistance. It 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.
- Consider using VISE Angels (Volunteers for Isolated Students’ Education). They 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.
- Consider contacting Angel Flight. They are 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 them before 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 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 join our online network to speak to others in the same situation who may also live in rural areas.
Breast care nurses
Your local breast care nurse can be a great source of information and support for you and your family. She can often help with:
- advising on and organising accommodation if you are travelling for treatment
- arranging for someone to come to your home to provide practical help, e.g. housework
- attending medical appointments with you
- explaining treatments to you and your family
- helping you to manage side effects of treatments, including treating radiotherapy burns
- helping you to talk to your family about your diagnosis
- liaising with your medical team and coordinating your appointments
- linking you to support services in your local area
- providing emotional support
- providing information on breast prostheses and breast reconstruction
Ask your doctor, enquire at your local hospital or community centre, or visit the McGrath Foundation website to find a breast care nurse near you.
For more information on support for women living in rural and remote areas, please look at:
- My Journey is a free resource that provides up-to-date, reliable information for women in rural areas.
- Our Patient Assisted Travel Scheme fact sheet.