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Cancer Focus NI appeals for emergency funds as coronavirus crisis threatens its survival

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Kathy Farrell underwent eight operations

Kathy Farrell underwent eight operations

Kathy Farrell underwent eight operations

A cancer charity facing closure because of the coronavirus crisis has launched an emergency appeal for funds.

Cancer Focus Northern Ireland needs help to save its vital services for patients now and in the future. The charity fears it may not survive the Covid-19 crisis and has asked for donations to help keep its doors open.

Each year the charity supports 6,000 cancer patients, their families and carers.

It is 90% dependent on fundraising but has had to cancel all its fundraising events and close its charity shops due to Covid-19. As a result, it is facing an 80% loss of income over the next six months.

Roisin Foster, chief executive of Cancer Focus NI, said the charity is facing a crisis it has never faced before in its 50-year history.

"Our income has plummeted to a critically low level and we are worried that we will not be able to keep afloat," she said.

"We fear we might not be here to continue to support thousands of people at one of the toughest times of their lives.

"For each day of lockdown, another 36 local people get cancer, and cancer figures are rising year on year.

"We are still providing greatly reduced counselling and family support services to as many vulnerable people as possible.

"But we urgently need your help and we're appealing to everyone to make a donation, big or small, to save our services.

"Your donations are vital to us and every penny raised stays in Northern Ireland.

"Your support at this incredibly difficult time is extremely valuable and greatly appreciated. We can't do it without you."

Ms Foster explained that cancer screening and GP referrals for suspected cancer have dropped by 76% because of the lockdown.

The charity is now expecting a "wave" of patients facing late diagnosis and more complex treatment.

"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," she added.

"Covid-19 is making life so much more difficult for them - treatments have been delayed and clinics cancelled.

"Not to mention the anxiety, stress and loneliness that patients and their families might feel right now.

"We desperately want to be able to support people facing cancer both now and in the future, but unfortunately we are facing a crisis unlike any other we have ever known in our 50-year history."

Support Cancer Focus NI by donating through its website on cancerfocusni.org/appeal Donations can also be made by texting FOCUS to 70660 to donate £5 or text FOCUS £10 to 70660 to donate £10.

'You realise you are not isolated... it was the light at the end of the tunnel'

Case study: Kathy Farrell, Dunmurry

Without the support of Cancer Focus NI, breast cancer survivor Kathy Farrell does not know where she would have been following her treatment.

The mother-of-three has used two of the charity's many services after she discovered she had the disease.

Kathy (44), from Dunmurry, lives with her husband Patrick and has three sons, Patrick, Jack and Aodhan.

She said Cancer Focus NI's services were a "light at the end of the tunnel".

During her treatment, she underwent eight operations including a double mastectomy, breast reconstruction and a hysterectomy.

Kathy's long-term health has been affected in other ways, too - she has depression and anxiety along with fibromyalgia, nerve damage in her hands and feet and chronic fatigue.

She is appealing for donations to help Cancer Focus NI support more people at one of the most difficult times of their lives.

"After getting breast cancer at the young age of 34 my whole world fell apart," said Kathy. "I had surgery to remove the tumour but it turned out to be much larger than anticipated.

"At the time I wasn't really prepared to talk about my diagnosis with anyone.

"Maybe, I thought, if I don't speak about it then it's not really real?

"I finally hit a brick wall.

"I felt I had nowhere to turn and my GP advised me to talk to someone and try and make some sense of everything.

"That's when I was introduced to a counsellor at Cancer Focus NI, who I referred to as my lifeline. I had no idea what experiences or feelings were going to surface at any time.

"My lifeline allowed me the space, the secure, safe setting and the confidence to share anything with her.

"I realised more than ever that I needed help."

Kathy said that having someone there to listen was a vital part of her recovery and that just because cancer treatment has finished doesn't mean the journey to recovery ends.

"For a lot of people their new journey is only beginning - an unsure, a bit frightening and a really confusing new journey," she continued.

"My lifeline helped me every step of the way and was a light at the end of the tunnel for me.

"I also joined the Cancer Focus NI writing group. I loved it because I found that writing things down helped process what I'd been through and helped me work through my own experience.

"When you're in a group with other people you realise that there are others worse off than you and you're not the only one having a bad time, and sometimes you can help them with bit of advice, which gives you a good feeling.

"Counselling and writing about my cancer journey with Cancer Focus NI have made a huge impact on my life. You realise you're not isolated and by yourself and that there is somebody there who can support you.

"I don't think Cancer Focus NI realise the positive impact they have on people's lives, it's life-changing."

Belfast Telegraph