A seriously-ill cancer patient has written an open letter, pleading for public co-operation to stop the spread of coronavirus among the sick and vulnerable. The writer is aged 40, with two school-aged daughters. She asked not to be identified to protect them. Her mother, who has even more advanced cancer, is aged 68. This is her plea to all New Zealanders.

You don't know me, but over the coming weeks and possibly months, both my own and my beloved mama's lives are in your hands.

In September last year, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Four weeks later, my mama (a non-smoker) was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Right now we are both undergoing chemotherapy, a life-saving treatment which wreaks havoc on our immune systems - meaning we are both currently immunocompromised. In layman's terms, we are not as able to fight infection as you might be.

And so that puts us into the high-risk group of people that the coronavirus might kill.

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For you, Covid-19 might be no worse than a bad flu. But for me, my mama, and thousands of other immunocompromised people around New Zealand, it could be fatal. It's a pretty terrifying thought.

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When I first started chemotherapy, my oncology team instructed me to go straight to A&E if I got a temperature over 38C. They told me not to be complacent – I've heard stories of patients with common viruses who have waited at home for a few hours, and by the time they got to hospital it was too late, their immune systems were too weak, and they subsequently died. At the moment I'm halfway through a fairly brutal chemotherapy regimen, and I struggle to fight off cold sores. I hate to think how my body will cope if I catch this virus.

This 40-year-old woman has stage 3 breast cancer and her mother has stage 4 lung cancer, making both very vulnerable to infection from Covid-19. Photo / Brett Phibbs
This 40-year-old woman has stage 3 breast cancer and her mother has stage 4 lung cancer, making both very vulnerable to infection from Covid-19. Photo / Brett Phibbs

My mama in particular is at risk. Covid-19 attacks the lungs, and having lung cancer, her lungs are compromised as well as her immune system. While we've both made conscious decisions not to live in fear through our fight against cancer, it's fair to say we both feel pretty anxious as we see this virus sweep the globe.

Our best chance of surviving the current pandemic is by not catching it. And our best chance of that, is for the virus to be contained. And that's where you come in.

Why? Because your actions over the next few days and weeks will determine how we as a country can contain this virus, and if the thousands of vulnerable people like me and my mama will survive it. In this instance, our lives really are in your hands.

We are taking every precaution we can. Earlier this week I stopped going to places like supermarkets and shopping malls, and started keeping my distance from people (hard work for a natural hugger). As of Friday, I've gone into full isolation mode: my husband is working from home, we've pulled our kids out of school, and outside of appointments and walks up my local maunga, I'm staying put.

But there's only so much we can do. And, so I am depending on you, a random stranger, to take precautions, to adhere to government recommendations, to practise social distancing, to wash your hands, to self-isolate if you need to – to do everything you can to stop the coronavirus from spreading. Not because you are scared you might die from Covid-19, because it's highly likely you won't. But because you care enough about people like myself and my mama who could.

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I've felt pretty vulnerable reading reports of people who are travelling into New Zealand from overseas and don't think they need to self-isolate. University students who are defying advice and still hosting mass parties. To put it bluntly, you are putting my life at risk. You are putting my beloved mama's life at risk.

If you think we are over-reacting, that's the point. As I read the other day – if we're lucky, in six months' time, the extreme measures being taken now might seem like an overreaction because relatively few people died. I hope to look back on this piece and think I didn't need to worry. But for now, we must do all we can to prevent it spreading.

So, as you go about your daily lives over the coming days and weeks, please think of me. Think of my beloved mama. Think of my children, who need their own mama here. Or if that's too hard to comprehend because you don't know me, imagine the lives of your own family being at risk from your actions.

My mama and I have spent the past six months doing everything we can to save our lives in our respective fights against cancer. We don't want to die because you were complacent about Covid-19.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website