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Inconsistent Advice For Covid-Positive Women Living With Breast Cancer

Women living with Metastatic Breast Cancer who test positive for Covid-19 are being given conflicting advice on how to maintain their treatment and Health NZ needs to issue clear guidance, according to Sweet Louise, the only charity in New Zealand dedicated to supporting women living with incurable, metastatic breast cancer.

‘There is a lack of clear advice anywhere about what to do when you are having life-prolonging treatments for cancer but test positive for Covid-19. Some of our members are being told that they should continue to attend their appointments for treatment even though they have tested positive for Covid19 while others have been told to stay away and isolate until they test negative. We need Health NZ to provide unequivocal guidelines’ says Catrin Devonald, CEO of Sweet Louise.

‘It’s confusing and distressing at a hugely stressful time of life. Metastatic breast cancer cannot be cured, yet often it can be controlled with treatment, sometimes for many years. But the impact of ongoing treatment can be enormous, from financial impacts such as having to give up work, to severe fatigue, to the ongoing anxiety of not knowing how long you might have left with your loved ones.’

Each year, about 3000 women in New Zealand are diagnosed with breast cancer, and up to 400 women are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Metastatic breast cancer is a cancer that has spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body. At this point, the cancer can’t be cured. But thanks to improved treatments available in New Zealand, many women can live for a long time.

‘Right now, we are very worried that the Covid-19 situation is compounding feelings of anxiety and fear for New Zealanders with metastatic breast cancer. Women with compromised immunity are concerned about how effective the vaccine might be for them. For others, being advised by your doctor to isolate at home is a huge burden when you know your time with loved ones is limited.’

Metastatic breast cancer affects younger women too – around 50% of the women supported by Sweet Louise are under the age of 59 and many of them have children under 18 years of age.

‘For women with metastatic breast cancer, the narrative of ‘winning the battle’ or ‘breast cancer survivor’ doesn’t fit, adds Catrin Devonald. ‘This is a fight they can’t win. But their incredible courage and determination to make the most of the time they have, to be there for their children and families, is truly humbling.’

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