Do you live in a rural or remote part of Australia? if so, you may be facing additional challenges during your breast cancer treatment, especially in terms of accessing specialists’ treatment centres.
Like many people 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. Travelling for treatment can put extra 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 childcare maybe an additional cost. The logistics of setting up support for your family while you are away can also be daunting.
Many regional supports and services have been put in place to ensure people living in rural or remote areas can access the same quality of care as people in metropolitan areas.
financial assistance schemes to help with the costs of travelling to medical appointments and treatment
subsidised accommodation near your treatment centre
other financial or practical assistance programs or services available in your state or territory.
A number of treatment centres in major towns have accommodation for people travelling from rural areas for cancer treatment. Your state or territory Cancer Council will know of them, or you can check with the hospital social worker.
Local service clubs such as Rotary and Lions clubs, or the local branch of the Country Women’s Association, may also have ideas for accommodation.
You might also want to contact the state/territory tourist information centre for suggestions about things you can see and do while you’re there.
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.
There are many supports available that may help you and your family. These include:
Patient Assisted Travel Schemes (PATS). These schemes provide financial assistance to help with the cost of travel and accommodation for people living in rural and remote areas who need to travel some distance for medical care. All states and territories have a PATS with varying rules and amounts of assistance. For more information about PATS support, visit Healthdirect.
Consider contacting Angel Flight. This 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.
Ask your breast care nurse, hospital social worker, GP or Cancer Council what financial and practical assistance may be available in your local area.
You or a member of you family may be eligible for an income assistance payment from the Australian government. For more information visit Services Australia.
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.
AHVise supports farming families by providing volunteer tutors to help isolated students with their learning and education. They can also provide domestic and personal support in the case of illness or if respite is required. You can find out more by visiting the AHVise website.
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.
Before travelling for appointments and treatment, phone ahead to check whether there are likely to be significant waiting times - in which case you may be able to leave home a little later than you had planned. You can also ask whether there is parking available and what other support might be provided for people who travel long distances.
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.
If you’re travelling to another city for your treatment, think about contacting the hospital where you will be treated to see if there is a breast care nurse who can meet with you. If not, a breast care nurse in your local area could provide support when you return home.
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 must 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.
A breast care nurse can provide information and support and can help coordinate your care. If you would like to see a breast care nurse, ask your surgeon or medical oncologist if there is a breast care nurse available at your treating centre. You could also enquire at your local hospital or community centre.
Otherwise, you can contact the McGrath Foundation, who will be able link you to one of their breast care nurses. This is a free Australia wide service which does not need a referral from another health professional.
A breast care nurse 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
explaining treatments to you and your family
helping you to manage side effects of treatments
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
assisting you in organising telehealth appointments with your specialists, when possible, to avoid travel.
Many breast care nurses also provide information and support by phone, so if there isn’t one at your treating centre or where you live, try to find one who will connect with you by phone, Facetime or some other online video platform.
The number of breast care nurses in Australia is steadily increasing but even so, not everyone will have the support of a breast care nurse. If this is the case for you, there are other people who can help. Hospital nurses, social workers or pastoral care workers can provide support and may be able to link you with local support services during your treatment, especially if you’re far from home. Your GP will also be able to provide support and information.
If you live outside a major city, you may be able to reduce travel time by replacing some medical consultations with online video calls. If you’re interested, ask your breast cancer specialists whether they offer the service and, if so, whether this option is appropriate for you.
You can stay at home for online consultations but they’re more likely to take place at a local medical clinic where your GP or another health professional, such as a breast care nurse, can sit in with you.
If you prefer talking face-to-face, there is no obligation for you to accept an online video consultation even if your specialist suggests it.
To find a breast care nurse in your area visit the McGrath Foundation website or call 1800 183 338 to speak to a breast care telephone support nurse.
Visit My Journey, BCNA’s online tool for information tailored to your diagnosis.
If you live in a rural area, Patient Assisted Travel Scheme can help with travel expenses to specialist services
Access discounted taxi fares and car parking through state and territory government programs. This includes discounted parking at hospitals
Find out information you need to know about having the correct health insurance cover
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