An RSE worker diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in New Zealand is stuck in limbo, having made the decision to return to the Solomon Islands, only to find lockdown rules have prevented her from doing so.
Margaret Lilo, 29, made the decision despite there being no treatment available to her in the Solomon Islands.
She found out she had B Cell Lymphoma in January. At first, insurance covered the cost of treatment, and she recovered, but the cancer returned and this time insurance did not cover Lilo's treatment.
She has since received radiation therapy which cost $4000, but has chosen to stop further treatment, which could cost up to $200,000.
Lilo was 10 minutes from Auckland Airport, and booked on her flight, when the country went into lockdown and her flight was cancelled.
Lilo came to the region in February 2020 as part of the Recognised Seasonal Employee (RSE) Scheme to work with Gourmet Paprika, and Gourmet Blueberries.
She was working fulltime until January 2021.
"While I was working I was supporting my family, but then I got the diagnosis."
In January Lilo was at a health centre to get her knee checked because it was causing her pain.
But while she was there, she decided to ask the doctor to check her chest as well, because she was getting pains on the left side of her chest and she had swelling.
It was X-rayed straight away.
"I was shocked when I heard the news, and almost immediately started chemotherapy."
Pastoral Care Co-ordinator Trudy Kirk said within a short time of Lilo completing what appeared to be a successful course of chemotherapy, the aggressive form of lymphoma came back in late-July.
"Her initial treatment was funded by her health insurance, but now she's no longer covered," Kirk said.
Kirk said it was not uncommon for insurance to only cover a first round of treatment.
"She has hospital costs of $4000 for extra radiation given recently.
"It gives her quality time to hopefully spend with her family and she wants to get home before she becomes more unwell."
A large amount of work by Lilo's employers Gourmet Paprika, and Gourmet Blueberries and the Solomon Island High Commission resulted in having Lilo booked to fly home last September 3, transiting through Brisbane, Kirk said.
"Imagine the shock, finding out 10 minutes' drive away from the airport that all flights had been cancelled. With Auckland in lockdown they had no option but to turn around and do the long drive back to Hawke's Bay," Kirk said.
"With no immediate flights on the horizon and an insidious cancer that doesn't care about time or Covid restrictions, this beautiful young woman is now faced with more uncertainty."
Lilo's savings are gone and she has already incurred the medical bill for radiation therapy given to try and halt the tumour in the short term.
"We hope that somehow we will find a way to get Margaret home very soon."
Lilo has three siblings and while they video call regularly, being away from them is weighing down on her.
"I am thankful for all the care and support. But it's really hard being away from them, I just want to get back on any available flights," Lilo said.
Site HR manager Shamina Lala said they were supporting Kirk so she could support Lilo, who is staying at company-provided accommodation.
"Right at the beginning we decided to remove the additional costs to support Margaret."
Kirk has created a Givealittle page for Lilo and they are hoping to raise $20,000. To date they have raised $9736.
Funds raised will go toward Margaret's hospital bill and future costs incurred in the precious time she has left, Kirk said.