When her veteran husband was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer it never occurred to a Bay woman that the RSA or NZ Defence Force would be able to help her family.

But as Poppy Appeal kicked off this week, Debra Wilson praised the RSA for coming to the rescue and hoped other families would become aware help was available.

After Mrs Wilson's husband, Anthony, was diagnosed with stage four oesophageal cancer it was "financially and emotionally very hard".

Debra Wilson and kids Madeline, 11, and Flynn, 9, and their cat George. Photo/George Novak
Debra Wilson and kids Madeline, 11, and Flynn, 9, and their cat George. Photo/George Novak

Mr Wilson's service days were in the past - he had done a tour of duty in Bosnia in 1996 - and they never considered RSA help was available.


"Our family is very supportive but my son and daughter were 8 and 10 at the time, [and] we had a mortgage to pay."

Palliative care was the only option so Mrs Wilson left her job as a MRI technician to care for her husband.

Mrs Wilson said people associated the RSA with the older population - veterans from WWII or Vietnam - but when she was put in touch with Ray Terrill, the RSA support adviser for the Bay region, he helped them apply for weekly income compensation that veterans are eligible for.

"Ray helped me get stuff from Defence to support our application - like Anthony's service records - the sort of thing you need but don't know that it's available or how to go about getting.

"Given our circumstances, it made a big difference. Nothing worse than at that time having to do paperwork. To not have to think about finances was huge."

After Mr Wilson passed away in May last year, the RSA helped Mrs Wilson apply for a funeral benefit and Mr Terrill continues to offer friendship and support.

"When Anthony was ill we had a social worker through the cancer centre and she said to me that it would not have occurred to her either that this kind of help was available - she thought it was only for older people.

"It's good to know that others might benefit from our experience," Mrs Wilson said.

Read more: Serious thieves clean out farmer's home and shed

The Poppy Appeal, running from April 11 to 15, collects funds which are used by the RSA to assist all current and former servicemen and women, including NZ Police, and their families, with or without operational service overseas.

RSA national support services manager Mark Compain said 100 per cent of the Poppy Appeal donations go towards support services to help improve the quality of life of those people.

To donate, keep an eye out for the street appeal or people can contribute $3 by texting POPPY to 4662, or online at www.rsa.org.nz/donatio