Over the last few months, Melbourne and many regional communities in Victoria were placed under lockdown due to the surge of COVID-19 cases. For cancer patients in these areas, the harsh restrictions limited the number of loved ones they could see, making an already difficult time all the more frightening for them.
During this time, Cure Cancer and their partner, The Big Hug Box , sought to deliver Big Hug Boxes, each filled with practical and empowering products sourced from small Australian businesses, to cancer patients across Melbourne.
Together, they raised an incredible $7,340 and delivered 115 boxes to cancer treatment centres and hospitals including Peninsula Private Hospital, RingWood Private, St Vincent’s, Ballarat Cancer Centre, Portland and Border Cancer Hospital.
We speak with Kathleen, a cancer patient and Big Hug Box recipient, to hear about her cancer journey and what the Big Hug Box means to her.
For 68-year old Kathleen Rutherford, life at the start of 2020 was perfectly normal. ‘The year started happily when the family took my 95-year-old mother on a short cruise on the Queen Elizabeth (which was great fun) and before Covid-19 descended, my husband and I had plans to travel to India and to Italy this year. We work on the principle that you travel while your health is up to it - you sure do.’
‘I have always been conscious of, and grateful for, my good fortune in enjoying excellent health and mobility, and I certainly never took it for granted, but there was no particular reason to fear what might be around the corner. After all, I enjoy a happy and untroubled life: fit and healthy, visiting the gym five times a week and maintaining a good diet. I had led a medically fortunate life with no significant health issues and was on zero medication. Of course we know intellectually that life is a random and fragile gift, but we don’t live our lives looking out for curve balls.’
It was in May this year that Kathleen began to experience unfamiliar symptoms. She explains, ‘I would be woken during the night by a strong aching sensation, a feeling of tight pressure, in my upper right arm. I knew the ache wasn’t muscular and wondered what it might be. The aches came and went, extending to my other arm, and varying in intensity.’
The next month, she celebrated her 69th birthday with a few family members during the brief period between lockdowns in Victoria but soon afterwards, a GP visit confirmed the unexpected. ‘My GP ordered a range of tests, including the blood test that showed low haemoglobin. Further tests revealed my Kappa Light Chain Multiple Myeloma. I can recall my reaction to the news that I had Multiple Myeloma: I wrote down the word Myeloma, having heard of it before but being otherwise ignorant of its features and implications for my future. And, fleetingly, that trusty human defence reaction of Denial presented: “This can’t be me. I’m fit and healthy, and Myeloma is not part of my plan.”’
‘But it was a momentary protest. The reality settled on me with little further resistance, apart from a few tears, and I switched fairly quickly to management mode - the need to inform myself and to get on with treatment, which has improved out of sight in recent years.’
Luckily for Kathleen, her treatments at St Vincent’s Private are close to her house in East Melbourne and she’s even been able to walk home on the last two occasions. ‘My first day of Induction treatment at St Vincent’s in Melbourne was on Monday 5th October 2020. As well as the drugs I received, I was given a lot of information and resource material. I also received a “Mini Hug” box from Cure Cancer, containing tea, cookies, lip balm, etc. It was such a pleasant and unexpected surprise, so generous and comforting, providing me with a sense of an active and caring support group out there.’
‘I haven’t felt particularly isolated and lonely during lockdown. I live with my husband and we see our neighbours a lot, out in Yarra Park near our home. We’ve kept in touch with family and friends through Zoom meetings and catch ups in the park. I’ve joined all sorts of interesting lectures and discussions online. Cancer is much more of a preoccupation for me than lockdown, which has worked exceptionally well, and thanks to strong leadership from our State government for that.’
Despite a challenging year ahead, Kathleen is still holding onto a ray of hope and keeping a positive attitude. ‘I’ll have to go to hospital later this year for a stem cell transplant. I will be drawing on all the encouragement and support available. With so much progress being made in the treatment of Myeloma, I’m hoping that research holds out the promise of a cure in the future, something that hopefully translates to all forms of cancer.’
Thank you to Kathleen for sharing with us her moving story and we wish her all the best as she continues her treatment.
Cure Cancer has recently launched the Buddy Box, another special gift box that will instead go to children facing cancer in treatments centres and hospitals.
Be a Buddy to a child who needs it most and purchase a Buddy Box today for Cure Cancer to send it to a little friend who needs our help during these difficult times.