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Conor O’Leary on Purple House and Covid-19

By Conor O’Leary, Manager, Purple House Cancer Support Centre.

Personally speaking, when I was a child, I needed somewhere like Purple House, but sadly no such place existed.  Today, when I see young children grow and flourish thanks to the services of Purple House, it drives us to do more.

There is no doubt that Covid19 has brought us some very challenging times, along with increased levels of worry, anxiety and uncertainty.  However, although we are apart, it has also brought us closer as a society.

In my role as Manager of Purple House Cancer Support Centre in Bray, I have seen first-hand the outpouring of positivity and goodwill from our communities.  Everyone coming together to help each other, and the most vulnerable in our towns and villages.  Daily, we receive phone calls from people who have been temporarily laid off from work, offering their time to volunteer to help us to deliver food hampers to Cancer patients who are self-isolating or offering to drive patients into hospitals for their Chemotherapy or Radiotherapy treatments.

Once the restrictions were announced in March, we established a Covid19 Cancer Support Team at Purple House.  We knew we needed to respond quickly.  Basically, this involved moving all of our services from a physical setting to an online, telephone, and remote setting to keep both patients and our staff and volunteers safe.

Our Counselling service moved to telephone and video counselling.  This meant we could expand our reach to be available to patients Nationwide.  We now regularly use Zoom to hold our Cancer support groups and classes such as creative writing, relaxation, Ukulele lessons and the Purple House Choir.

Central to being able to support Cancer patients during Covid19, was our ability as an organisation to react quickly and adapt our services quickly.  We worked with the HSE to advise them our support plans and we notified all of the Community Call Helplines in Ireland of our services.  The credit for this goes to our amazing and committed team of Counsellors, Therapists, Support Workers and volunteers.  In the space of a week, most of our physical services were provided online.

One of the services we have always provided was food provision.  However during Covid19, the demand for this service has increased tenfold.  This is due to unemployment and the need for Cancer patients to self-isolate at home.  Cancer patients cannot risk visiting the supermarket for groceries to feed themselves or their children; they cannot afford to get Covid19.  Thanks to the generosity of the public, our volunteers are delivering food to Cancer patients on a daily basis.

Cancer doesn’t stop during Covid19.  Sadly people still receive the news that they have Cancer.  Cancer treatment and surgery are also continuing.  Our telephone support line has seen a huge increase in calls from people who are very anxious about having to go into hospital for surgery or treatment.  They are worried about getting Covid19; however they also realise that they cannot defer their appointment or surgery.  The one thing that we can be hopeful of is that one day, when a vaccine is developed, Covid19 will pass.  Therefore, it is vital now that Cancer patients continue to attend their appointments.  If you are not feeling well or notice something unusual, phone your GP and get it checked.  Our health service is there to be used, don’t put anything off because of Covid19.  If you are worried or need to talk, contact Purple House on 01-2866966.

The mental health effects of Covid19 will be with us for a very long time.  There is a level of anxiety that Cancer patients experience, however when you add the anxiety that Covid19 brings, it can be very distressing.  Thankfully, we now have a roadmap for when restrictions will be lifted and when life can return to some level of normality.  Continued investment in our Community based Cancer Support Services and Mental Health Cancer Services is vital to ensure that the organisations and charities working on the frontline have the resources to look after the needs of the most vulnerable members of our Communities, not just in times of crisis, but every day.

Naturally during Covid19 all of our fundraising events have been cancelled.  At Purple House we rely heavily on fundraising to keep ours doors open to support the 1,500 families who use our services.  Throughout the past 30 years, our sole focus has been on opening the doors first and worry about how we will pay for the services afterwards.  Personally speaking, when I was a child, I needed somewhere like Purple House, but sadly no such place existed.  Today, when I see young children grow and flourish thanks to the services of Purple House, it drives us to do more.

As an organisation, we are so thankful to everyone who has helped us to meet the service demands during Covid19. We could not do it without you.

If you need us please visit www.purplehouse.ie or call 01-2866966 for more information.

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