Mt Gambier volunteers helping cancer patients cope

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By Melissa Keogh

A volunteer-driven support group in Mount Gambier is helping cancer patients and their families deal with the daily pressures that come with a cancer diagnosis.

Securing accommodation or travel expenses when travelling to Adelaide for appointments and providing food and petrol vouchers are just some of the small ways the Mt Gambier Cancer Support Group has been lending a hand over the past 37 years.

The group, consisting of unpaid volunteers who dedicate their time to fundraising and to supporting cancer patients, has been around since 1981.

Established by the late Rhonda Phillips, former director of nursing at the old Mt Gambier Hospital, the support group has helped dozens of Limestone Coast locals doing it tough.

Mt Gambier Cancer Support Group members fundraise throughout the year to help support locals and their families deal with the challenges that come with having cancer. Photo courtesy of The Border Watch.

Chairperson Lorraine Musgrove has been a part of the community group for almost three decades and says such support groups are essential for regional towns as many patients must travel to Adelaide for treatment and appointments.

“We give the clients lots of information, where to stay and how they can get to treatment in Adelaide and it makes the world of difference,” she says.

“Adelaide is a five-hour drive away and for some people, they aren’t used to going to the city, can’t drive or haven’t any relatives down there. So it can be a huge challenge and very daunting.

“Knowing we can help make their journey a little easier in whatever way needed it very rewarding for our group.”

The Mt Gambier Cancer Support Group funds taxi fares and other travel expenses and assistance by hosting a number of fundraising activities throughout the year.

Its biggest fundraisers are the Kevin Sporer Country Music Afternoon in June, two major raffles, and manning the gate at the local footy club’s junior matches.

Local businesses also pitch in, Lorraine says.

“We are very lucky and we can’t speak highly enough of the businesses and the community for all their donations to the group,” she says.

Support group member Joan Osmond, left, and chairperson Lorraine Musgrove alongside the wig cabinet. Photo courtesy of The Border Watch.

About two years ago the cancer support group established a wig cabinet at the Mt Gambier Hospital’s oncology unit, allowing women who have lost their hair to chemotherapy to borrow a new hairstyle for a while.

Support group volunteer Jeannette Breda says women can lend the wigs, caps, beanies and scarves at no cost.

“We started having wigs donated to us by women who didn’t know what to do with them once they finished their journey with cancer,” she says.

“So we had a wig cabinet built for us at the oncology unit where women can donate their wigs once they didn’t need them anymore.

“Cheap as Chips also donated the mannequins so we can display the wigs in the cabinet.”

Over the years the group’s fundraising initiatives have helped it purchase surgical instruments and even a chemotherapy chair at the local hospital.

Assistance has also been given to the Cancer Council’s Adelaide lodges at Eastwood and Kent Town.

The support group consists of about 20 volunteers who meet once a month at the Naval Association’s Mt Gambier clubrooms.

“If you go around the room with our members, you’ll find that they have all had family members with cancer and we’ve supported them through that journey,” Lorraine says.

“Unless you’ve been down that road, you don’t fully understand a cancer patient’s needs.”

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