Elderly Chinese cancer patients suffer shortage of masks vital for treatment

CanRevive pandemic officer Victor Yeung accepts the 500 free face masks from Georges River Councillor Nancy Liu outside CanRevive's Hurstivlle office.

CanRevive pandemic officer Victor Yeung accepts the 500 free face masks from Georges River Councillor Nancy Liu outside CanRevive's Hurstivlle office.

The shortage of face masks is affecting one overlooked sector of the community more than most others- elderly cancer patients of Chinese background.

Like other sectors of the community, they are finding it difficult to find masks which are essential to protect their compromised immune system while undergoing cancer treatment.

The cancer patients are under the care of CanRevive, an organisation specifically set up 25 years ago to provide support services Chinese language cancer patients.

"Unfortunately, even with the coronavirus, cancer doesn't take a holiday," CanRevive president Eric Yeung said.

"Cancer patients have to travel to their treatment. The cancer cells don't take a holiday because coronavirus is going around."

Mr Yeung raised the problem of the face mask shortage with the Acting Home Affairs Minister Alan Tudge at a meeting of community leaders of Chinese background to discuss the coronavirus pandemic.

Also attending the meeting was Georges River Councillor Nancy Liu who on hearing of the shortage bought 500 masks and donated them to the Hurstville office of CanRevive last week.

They were accepted by CanRevive pandemic officer Victor Yeung.

"We need to encourage this type of mutual assistance spirit, "Councillor Liu said.

"The danger is if we let this pandemic fracture the community and isolate various groups of every background," she said.

"We must realise we are all facing and fighting against this crisis.

"I have known CanRevive for 10 years. We have been working together to serve these people who are probably the most vulnerable group facing this crisis and need more protection, particularly at this time."

Cr Liu said a perfect example of community assitance was the gesture by Connells Point resident Sherry Yu who recently donated excess face masks to her elderly neighbours.

"I play golf and I bought about several hundred masks from overseas for our golf organisation," Ms Yu said,

"I thought that my neighbours living on either side could use some. They are elderly and didn't have access to masks.

"With one couple, the wife is really sick and her husband is in his 90s. They can't get out. They are very weak and vulnerable. They were very happy when I gave them the masks."

Cr Liu said this was the type of community spirit that needed to be encouraged at this time.

"We are not the government. We can't do everything," she said. "But we can do our bit as a community."

Eric Yeung thanked Cr Liu for her timely donation which comes at an essential time for CanRevive.

CanRevive was started in 1995 by three Chinese women - two former cancer patients and one carer.

It provides home and hospital visits, telephone support for the home-bound, support groups for patients and carers and information services.

The organisation has 5,000 members of which 1,200 are active. It receives about 300 new cancer patients a year and about 100 carers.

The CanRevive vision is: 'No-one should face cancer alone.'

"Even though we have closed for the time being our centres we haven't stopped servicing our clients," Mr Yeung said.

"We have changed to an intensive phone service for our clients.

"Our cancer patients still have to travel to their treatment.

"We always advise them in the flu season to wear a mask when they go out because their immune system is low.

"The people we support are elderly. They have to travel a lot. Some are socially disadvantaged and have to use public transport."

Mr Yeung said the cancer patients are now facing two other obstacles as they travel to their treatment.

"Some have been verbally abused by people because they wear masks. People tell them they shouldn't be out.

"But they have to be out for treatment and they have to wear masks. It is part of their cancer journey.

"They are the most vulnerable people in our community. They have to be there. It is not their choice.

"Now there is talk on the news that people with cancer and the eldery may not be treated if they have coronavirus; that the ICU can't handle the numbers and these people may not be given priority for treatment. They infer this on the news that this is what is happening in Italy.

"Whether it is true or not we don't know.

"But for some of the people we see it is very upsetting and stressful when they are facing the struggle of their life.

"Many are on the lower or less-fortunate economic scale. For them to have to spend $3 to $4 a mask and have to use them all the time it is a battle.

"This virus is really out of left field and to be confronted with discrimination it really really hurts. It is extremely hurtful and not called for. "