I was first diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 38 and my daughter Grace was two. I fought the disease for four years before it spread to my spine. I was living in Australia at the time, running a building company with my brother. Everything was going so well – the company was growing and I was about to buy a house. Then the cancer hit again.
Not long after receiving the news that it had progressed to stage IV cancer, I made the difficult decision to leave my business, pack everything up, and return home to New Zealand. I needed my parents’ help to look after Grace and to also look after me too.
The pain I now get can be excruciating. I can’t sit for too long, I can’t stand for too long, I can’t walk for too long. In the winter the pain can be so bad, I can’t even get out of bed. In the colder months I’ll pick up pretty much every bug.
All of this means Grace helps run the household because I’m a solo mum. Grace cooks most of the meals and looks after me. It’s a reversed role that no 12-year-old should ever be faced with. It’s affected her in more ways than one.
I survive on a disability pension and I get some help from the Government for Grace, but it’s nowhere near enough. By the time I pay for her portion of rent, I have $23 left in which to clothe her, feed her, buy school books, and her uniform.
I have to factor in to my budget that I’ll need to go to the doctor’s once a month and it costs $25 each time. When every cent of my budget is accounted for with the basics, where does $25 come from? The only thing that can be eaten into is the food bill.
The cost of me going to the doctor is me having to make the decision of: ‘Do I feed us?’ Because that’s one or two meals for me and my daughter.
I can’t afford to buy clothes for me or Grace. I’ve had to rely on charity to provide even the most simple things. It’s distressing, as I’ve been brought up to work hard to provide for myself.
At times, I’ve even avoided going to the doctor because of the cost. That takes a real toll on my health. If I could have free GP visits it would take a lot of financial pressure off. I wouldn’t have to second-guess going to the doctor. I could stay on top of any infections happening in my body. I could look after my daughter properly because I wouldn’t be spending so much time being sick.
Cheryl is 49 and lives in Shelly Park, Auckland. She's sharing her story in support of our petition for free GP visits for those with advanced breast cancer, and was one of our guests for the handover of our petition to MP Maggie Barry.