I was diagnosed with bi-lateral breast cancer in October 2015 and had to have a double mastectomy. Three months later the doctors found the cancer had spread to my bones.
I’d had a lump in my right breast for quite a long time but breast cancer didn’t even occur to me. I thought it was part of me going through menopause. I was working full time and my life was going along quite happily, and then everything changed completely.
My life is a lot different now. I get very tired very quickly and I lack the motivation to do things. I also have problems with my memory and I struggle to find the right words. The cancer is now predominantly in my spine so I have a lot of back ache. I can’t stand at the sink to do the dishes, or bend over to pick the washing up out of the basket. I get very frustrated because I’m no longer like my old self, I miss my old self very much.
Until around 18 months ago I was still working full time as an admin officer. I gradually went down to four days a week and since last September I’ve had to reduce my hours even more to three shortened days – so 18 hours a week. It’s very hard because my husband John is in casual work and he isn’t always guaranteed a full week’s work. I’ve always felt the pressure on my shoulders to make sure we’re ok financially. I know I have to look after myself, but at the end of the day the bills have to be paid.
I regularly take painkillers and because they are controlled drugs I can only get one month’s worth at a time. So every month I either have to see my GP – which costs $50 – or call in for a script. Even that costs $20. For me, that’s quite a big chunk to go out once a month. And I prefer to go in because I find often there’s a mistake with the script. My pain is so bad, it’s very important for me to get the right amount.
My pain medication is vital to me, so I always make sure I put this money aside. But I’m on a very tight budget. I try to make all of my outgoings as small as possible so I can still afford the doctors. My two adult daughters live at home and pay board – without this added income I really would struggle to manage.
If GP visits could be free for me that would take a massive weight off my shoulders. When you go through something like breast cancer you shouldn’t have to also have to worry about the bills being paid. The doctor is a lifeline to me, and it doesn’t seem fair that I need to stress about whether I can afford that or not – on top of all my other worries. Anything that could help people like me would take such a burden off us.
Tania Lelisi is 55 and lives in Henderson, Auckland. She shared her story as part of our petition for free GP visits for those with advanced breast cancer.