The spread of coronavirus has forced NI charity Cancer Focus to close its shops and cancel fundraising events. As its income plummets, Marie Foy finds out how its work has changed lives
Hard-hit cancer charity Cancer Focus Northern Ireland is calling on the public to make a donation today to its emergency appeal to save its lifeline services for local people affected by cancer - both now and in the future. The charity's income has plummeted to critical levels and it is desperately worried that it will not survive the coronavirus crisis.
Each year, Cancer Focus NI supports 6,000 cancer patients, their families and carers across Northern Ireland. The local charity is 90% dependent on fundraising but has had to cancel all its fundraising events and close its charity shops. As a result, it's facing an 80% loss of income over the next six months. It desperately wants to keep its doors open in the future so that it can continue with vital work in the community.
Roisin Foster, chief executive of Cancer Focus NI, said: "Our hearts go out to people who are trying to cope with the anxiety of coronavirus on top of dealing with a cancer diagnosis and the impact of treatment.
"While greatly reduced, our counselling and family support teams are still in contact with patients. They are seeing raised levels of anxiety - about treatment being delayed, about the increased risk of coronavirus for people with weakened immune systems, and about the loneliness and isolation of people facing terminal illness and bereavement without the usual networks of support.
"This, combined with suspending screening programmes, means that we are storing up considerable problems for the future - late diagnosis, more complex treatment, psychological impacts including bereavement - and all at a time when charities like ours are facing real concerns about our future," she said.
"We fully appreciate that coronavirus is to the forefront of everyone's mind. But sadly cancer has not disappeared - and our services can change people's lives. Your donations are vital and every penny raised stays in Northern Ireland. Your support at this incredibly difficult time is extremely valuable and greatly appreciated. We can't continue without you."
You can support Cancer Focus NI by making a donation today via cancerfocusni.org/appeal, text FOCUS £5 to 70660 to donate £5 or text FOCUS £10 to 70660 to donate £10
Sports nutritionist Emma Telford (23) lost her mum Lorna to cancer when she was a teenager. She lives with her dad David (57) and sister Evie (17) in Downpatrick. She says:
As a teenager living with a mother who had cancer, I was not the most open, nor did I ever entertain the thought of speaking about how I felt. I was 13 when she was diagnosed and Evie was just seven.
I thought that as long as I didn't talk about cancer, it wasn't real and everything would be fine. As a result of my unwillingness to talk about my feelings, I'd often have brief moments of utter despair. All of a sudden there would be an explosion and I was no longer in control of my emotions. I'm someone who wants to be in control all the time so the concept of feeling sad or crying was not only alien, but felt like it wasn't allowed.
Mum was ill for five years. She was an incredibly strong, determined lady and always drilled it into me that you should never lie down under cancer and that, as awful as it is and how unfair you may believe it to be, you must fight and remain positive, despite your emotions. You never give up because at the end of the day 'why shouldn't cancer come to me?'
I struggled with questions over the years and to this day have a multitude of unanswered ones which, if I'm honest, scares me. I may never truly get the answers I am looking for. However, in time you learn to accept what has happened and focus on the good times. My memories are the most precious things I have and these are what get you through the difficult days.
Rachel, from Cancer Focus NI's family support service, visited our house and talking to her was the best decision I've ever made.
It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I had to talk about death because it was in my face and there was no escape. In less than a year I'd come full circle, I'd embraced crying and had learnt that it was okay to not be yourself or to have a bad day.
Rachel spent lots of time with Mum, too, helping her with many things including her eulogy.
This must have been so hard to do, but Rachel was there to help Mum say goodbye in words to those she loved the most.
When Mum was in the hospice, it was the most challenging seven weeks of my life and when it became evidently clear she was dying, her wish was for me to be with her, something I never thought I could do.
I always panicked at the thought of living without Mum, being alone and not being able to say goodbye. What Rachel taught me is that you can talk and it truly helps.
Rachel helped prepare a plan of how to cope with Mum's death. Every day is difficult and I miss Mum terribly but the work of Cancer Focus NI and the family support service is fantastic.
They work with families to keep the memory alive of those who have died, through arts, drama or talking. The service is amazing and can help so many young children to understand what is happening when a loved one dies but in a way that is sensitive and easily understood.
You meet other people in the same situation and feel supported and that you are not alone. It's amazing to know that when you feel your tomorrows are running out, there are people there for you to listen and support and walk with you every step of the way."
Breast cancer survivor Sonia Moore (52), from Lurgan, is doing a Master's degree in fashion and textile retail management, inspired by the Cancer Focus NI art therapy sessions she took after her diagnosis. She also used the charity's counselling service. Sonia is appealing to everyone to support its emergency appeal. She says:
My whole world crashed around me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had surgery twice, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, Herceptin and am now on tamoxifen for 10 years. I went from working full-time to running to the hospital every other day. The treatments were gruelling and had a terrible effect on my body. I was then made redundant, so then I had financial problems, too. Not only had I my health to worry about but how was I going to pay my bills?
Around this time, I was signposted to Cancer Focus NI. Here I got counselling in my local area and benefit advice. Having an interest in art, I decided to go to their art therapy group. Well, for me it was life-changing.
I didn't think I would be able to draw a straight line again. I was welcomed by Joanne, the art therapist, and this group became my lifeline. Every Thursday off, I went to meet my new friends and draw a bit. The people I met were all at different stages of their cancer journey and I found this helpful. There was no pressure and I always came away from it feeling great. Joanne encouraged me to apply for a course in art, which I did. I went on to complete a BTEC diploma in art and design, then a BA Hons in textile art, design and fashion at the Ulster University. My daughter was at the same university doing a degree in fine art. It was amazing to have this time travelling together and a shared interest with her. After completing my degree, I was selected as artist in residence for one year. I'm now doing my Master's degree.
My life has been turned around. I always dreamed of going to university but never thought it would happen. I went from the depths of depression to living my dream. The support I received from Cancer Focus NI helped me to start living my life again. The friends I met at art therapy I now call my best friends. We can talk openly to each other about our feelings and support each other.
My outlook has changed. I don't stress over the little things and enjoy life. Every day is a gift and I try to live in the moment. Thank you Cancer Focus NI for being there when I needed you and helping me to turn something negative into a positive."
Helen Todd (38) began caring for her husband David (40) after he was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer. Helen lives with David and their son Josh (12) in Bangor. She is urging people to donate to Cancer Focus NI so the charity can continue helping people at one of the most stressful times of their lives. She says:
When David was diagnosed it was all very sudden and a massive shock. As far as we were concerned he was perfectly healthy. He had the odd headache and sometimes couldn't remember a word, but nothing to cause any alarm.
Then one Sunday evening he had a tonic-clonic seizure, was taken to hospital in an ambulance and had a CT scan the next morning, which is when we found out he had a tumour.
David had major brain surgery two weeks later but it wasn't possible to remove all the tumour. He has severe brain injury, brain tumour-related epilepsy and needs a lot of support. He's a very different person to live with and has chronic fatigue. Life revolves around hospital appointments these days.
David had six weeks of daily radiotherapy, six weeks after brain surgery, and it was during this time that I got involved with Cancer Focus NI. It was just as well because David was extremely unwell during eight months of chemotherapy and I needed support.
Our son Josh is very good and helps me with his dad. He's doing a really stand-up job. Josh has type 1 diabetes and has to have three glucose checks every night, so I have to get up with him.
I realised I was going to need help and to make sure I was mentally well enough to look after David and began having counselling with Cancer Focus NI. I don't know where I would be without them.
It was so refreshing to have someone say 'how can I help you' instead of 'how can I help David'.
It was such a relief. I had counselling for six months and then felt I could go back to work full-time.
Later on I went back to Cancer Focus NI for more counselling. I needed to get my head in a good place again. If you don't talk, your thoughts just fester and you don't learn to cope with it.
Thank goodness a service like this exists. You never know when you might need them.
I'd encourage everyone to give a donation, big or small, to this wonderful charity so they can continue their excellent work - it's a real lifeline for people like me."