Demand for food parcels from cancer patients spikes since onset of pandemic

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Cancer patients are at increasing risk of poverty because of coronavirus (Covid-19), a charity has warned.

Irish Cancer charity, Purple House Cancer Support Centre said calls to its helpline service from patients seeking food parcels have spiked since the onset of the pandemic.

The charity provides “cancer support services and facilities free of charge to people of all ages affected by Cancer Nationwide in Ireland”. It has received almost 3,000 calls to its helpline and provided 1,600 meals to cancer patients since March of this year. And it expects those figures to continue to rise as Christmas approaches.

Purple House founder Veronica O’Leary said a cancer diagnosis can have a negative impact on a patient’s finances at any time. But layered with the impact of Covid-19 it can have a devastating effect on the financial wellbeing of the patient and their immediate family.

“We will never stop supporting anyone who needs us”

She said they had noticed a significant increase in callers seeking mental health support services such as counselling to deal with the anxiety associated with coronavirus:

“When Covid-19 arrived on our shores, we immediately went into crisis mode to ensure that cancer patients were supported. However, there are many aspects, the hidden risks of cancer during a pandemic that have been truly harrowing,” she said.

Basic survival fears for people who are sick; the fear of the risk of going to the supermarket to feed your family; the increase in anxiety over delayed appointments when time is vital and the worries of children who are living with cancer.

All of these issues paired with the fear of poverty added to the increase in demand on our services such as counselling, mental health support programmes, hospital transport, services for children and more.”

In addition to meals and taking calls from cancer patients, the charity has also held more than 1,800 cancer support sessions and provided some 350 chemotherapy transport trips to patients.

Fundraising is vital

Ms O’Leary said that in order to continue to fund the vital work of the Purple House helpline in the run-up to the Christmas period, and as many fundraising efforts have been cancelled; the charity has produced a book called The Music Of What Happens as part of their Christmas appeal.

Katie Boylan, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2017 aged 35, is one of the contributors. She said:

I still remember the first time I rang the Purple House; I was crying so much I couldn’t get the words out.

The girl on the end of the phone was so lovely and caring and encouraged me to call in one morning to meet the counsellor Eimear and I could learn more about the services they offer.

Since then she has had counselling, acupuncture, reiki and attended their relaxation classes, during and after treatment, as well as joining the creative writing group.

I found it helped as a distraction from any ongoing health anxiety problems I’ve had since being diagnosed but also, I have really enjoyed writing and sharing stories with the rest of the group. The class have moved online now but we still have a lot of fun and it’s a great distraction from everything going on around us with Covid-19.

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