"Cancer doesn't stop for Covid-19, and neither have we."
That's according to Waikato/Bay of Plenty Cancer Society chief executive Shelley Campbell who said the charity continued to operate through the lockdown supporting hundreds of Kiwis with cancer.
Campbell said the society's support was more important than ever with Covid-19 adding an extra element of stress for people impacted by cancer.
"Covid-19 has affected all New Zealanders, but it's been particularly relevant to us here at the Cancer Society as we support cancer patients with vulnerable immune systems.
"We continued to operate throughout Alert Levels 3 and 4 to offer information, advice and support for people with cancer – but the way we've been able to provide that support has changed.
"Home visits and support groups weren't possible during lockdown, so supportive care nurses have been providing support over the phone and online for people who need it."
Campbell said since moving to level 2, their staff and clients had been so pleased to reconnect in person.
"Although groups and programmes are still suspended, we've been able to restart home visits where it's safe to do so. That safe face-to-face support is so valuable for people during a tough time."
Tauranga-based supportive care nurse Angelique Ensor has seen first-hand the additional stress Covid-19 has placed on cancer patients.
"It's been an extremely challenging time for people affected by cancer. They already have the stress of what may be a life-changing or life-limiting diagnosis, and they've had to deal with Covid-19 on top of that," she said.
"I've had clients ringing to ask whether they should start or continue their treatment because they've been worried about going into the hospital and exposing themselves to the virus.
"Others are anxious because they've had scans cancelled or delayed. And some people have really struggled without the support of friends or relatives outside their bubble."
"Our job is to support them through all that and to do whatever we can to make it easier."
Sometimes it is day-to-day practicalities that people need help with, like meals when they're unable to get to the supermarket or not feeling well enough to cook.
Demand for the Cancer Society's nutritious frozen meals tripled during lockdown and Ensor has been regularly doing contactless meal drop-offs for local clients.
"It's amazing how much of a difference something like a ready-to-go meal can make for people."
For others, it's all about connection – like the Cancer Society Walk for Wellness group, who normally meet at Mt Maunganui each Monday for a walk and a chat. Unable to meet in person because of Covid-19, the group has been meeting on Zoom instead.
"There are still plenty of laughs, just like there are normally when we're walking around the Mount," Ensor said.
"It's just fantastic to see the group still there to support each other through the highs and the lows during lockdown."
To help Waikato/Bay of Plenty Cancer Society cover the costs for remote-working equipment and a new freezer to store the increasing number of frozen meals, local funders TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust and Tauranga City Council provided $4991 in funding through the Rapid Response Fund.
Campbell said they were incredibly grateful for the support which impacted more than 120 clients in the Western Bay of Plenty during lockdown.
"Getting our staff equipped to work remotely during lockdown has been crucial – the Rapid Response funding has helped us do that and ensured we're still here to provide vital support for people who need it.
"It's also helped us provide frozen meals which are delivered to the door, so cancer patients get the nutrition they need while they're undergoing treatment.
"We can't thank TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust and Tauranga City Council enough; this support has never been more needed or appreciated."
To learn more about Waikato/Bay of Plenty Cancer Society or to donate click here.