23 October 2019
[bio] Kate Cox is one of Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 Cancer Nurses who supports more than 5,000 South Australian callers every year—including those impacted by breast cancer. Last year alone 13 11 20 had 1,000 calls from South Australian men and women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and were in need of information and support.
Being a Cancer Council Nurse is a diverse job, but I love it because it is a job that helps me to connect to my passion for science and advocacy. It brings me great fulfilment and enjoyment working with an empathetic, hardworking and knowledgeable team of nurses, and I know that the work we do means no one needs to go through their cancer experience alone.
A typical day for a 13 11 20 Cancer Nurse like me involves being invited into people’s lives at their darkest moments—and sometimes at their best. We meet people via the telephone, online chat, email or face to face visits. We enjoy hearing a person tell their story, connecting with them and guiding them to the information and support they need.
We celebrate people’s victories, comfort them after they hear bad news, advocate for those who need extra help and support, and can facilitate communication.
To be diagnosed with cancer can be very overwhelming. It can be hard to know where to start.
Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 information and support service can help you to understand what is happening to your body, understand the treatments suggested and consider the practical issues that may arise. Questions come up and 13 11 20 can help answer them.
No matter your age, or whether you live in the city or the country, you can connect with Cancer Council Nurses. We understand the impact that cancer can have on a person and their loved ones, and our nurses will be able to use their wide-ranging oncology knowledge and experience to meet the unique needs of each individual. We also offer information and support to people wanting to prevent and reduce their risk of cancer, as well as cancer screening programs and how to detect cancer early.
With the estimation that over 1,500 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in South Australia this year, services like 13 11 20 are vital in supporting not only the people diagnosed with cancer, but their family and friends too.
In the spirit of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d like to share a recent call with a lady named Barb*:
Barb was a 13 11 20 caller who had just been diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer and faced six months of chemotherapy, followed by radiation and hormone therapy. Her breast care nurse gave her the ‘Understanding Breast Cancer’ resource and advised her to call 13 11 20. Barb was distressed and scared for her future and unsure of how she would cope—emotionally and practically. She was anxious about knowing there was a family history of cancer and what this could mean for her daughters.
She was feeling overwhelmed and a little confused with what her doctor had told her—as many people would be after receiving a diagnosis. A call to 13 11 20 helped Barb to make sense of what she was told.
Living regionally, Barb also had many questions around accessing her treatment in a timely manner and how this would impact upon her financially. Listening to the fears and concerns of callers like Barb is an essential part of what 13 11 20 Cancer Nurses like me do. Our team of nurses were able to talk to Barb about what financial assistance she could access to assist with her travel and accommodation costs. She was also grateful to know that she could stay at one of the Lodges during her treatments, have access to a social worker and get transport to the hospital—given she didn’t feel confident driving in the city.
A cancer diagnosis can bring significant financial strain—with accumulating medical, fuel or utility costs. Referring Barb to our written resource ‘Cancer and your Finances’ proved to be very empowering for her by enabling her to know that she could be referred into our legal and financial planning service too.
In another call to 13 11 20, Barb shared a new distress around her sister’s breast cancer diagnosis. She decided that it may be helpful to speak with a counsellor so that she could learn ways to manage her stress and worrying thoughts. She told the 13 11 20 Cancer Nurse that she was feeling exhausted. She was worried about the state of her house. Not being able to care for her home as she would like was making her feel anxious.
Our nurses told her about Cancer Council’s Practical Support Program. Hearing about how the program could provide her with house cleaning assistance for a set period during her treatment was a huge relief for Barb. It enabled her to use the energy she had towards her recovery and more pleasurable activities.
Barb often reflected on how much she valued talking to the 13 11 20 nurses and said they helped her feel less alone.
Talking to people and social connection is so important because cancer treatment can be physically and emotionally difficult to go through. The support of a 13 11 20 Cancer Nurse is available to all South Australians to help reduce the distress associated with a cancer diagnosis, to navigate through what may feel like a complicated system, and make sense of what can be a challenging time in their lives.
The 13 11 20 service is here so that no one has to feel alone.
As you can see through Barb’s experience, when cancer impacts your life, the smallest things can make a world of difference. Our job as 13 11 20 Cancer Nurses is to help guide people like Barb through this challenging time at any stage of a cancer journey—we are here to show you compassion, ease your worries, empower you, or just be with you.
In the past year alone, we have provided 170 breast prostheses to South Australian women following their breast surgery; helped countless caller’s access face to face counselling; and aided in connecting regional South Australians with over 23,000 nights of accommodation at the Cancer Council SA Lodges.
Furthermore, around one third of Cancer Council SA requests for financial and practical assistance last year were from South Australians with a diagnosis of breast cancer, just like Barb.
This is why Barb’s story is so important. Her story shows the many benefits of picking up the phone in your time of need and reaching out to an experienced Cancer Nurse—we are more than just someone to talk to, we are a gateway to information and support.
Cancer Council 13 11 20 Nurse
Cancer Council 13 11 20 is open Monday to Friday, 8.30 am to 5.30 pm.
Cancer Council Nurses can provide you with up to date, evidence-based information by phone, email, mail, online, in print or in person. To find out more about how you can access 13 11 20 information by any of the above methods, click here.
Every day for the past 5 years Kate has seen the positive impact delivered by practical support services, like the 13 11 20 information and support line.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy and confidentiality.