Dot Nash knows all too well that a cancer diagnosis can be frightening, whether you're a patient or a carer. When you feel alone and there's nobody to turn to for help, that makes it even harder. Dot volunteers at Sunraysia Cancer Resources, a shopfront in Mildura that provides a centre where patients can drop in to find information and help.
'My husband had cancer for four years', says Dot, 'and we didn't have anything like this available to us then. I'm really happy to be able to help people who have had their life turned upside down by finding out they have cancer.'
Volunteers at the centre provide information and resources for patients and carers, including assistance with booking trains or flights and accommodation when patients need to travel long distances for specialised treatment. Assistance can be as simple as helping a patient to fill out forms or providing information about local support groups. It can be a really upsetting time for patients and their families, Dot explains, and the help provided by volunteers will depend on what the patient needs. It's not always easy. Compassion and empathy are important.
'When someone walks in and they are really upset by a diagnosis sometimes all you can do is give them a cup of tea and let them cry it out.'
Something as simple as filling out a form becomes more difficult when your life has been turned upside down. Dot says that she and other volunteers also help patients with applications for assistance through initiatives like VPTAS (Victorian Patient Transport Assistance Scheme).
'We understand how hard it is to travel long distances to Melbourne or other centres for treatment,' she says. 'For example we were able to help a mother of three arrange transport to Melbourne and back in the same day, so that the impact on her family was as small as possible. That kind of practical help makes such a difference, and I like being able to do that for people who need it.'
Another aspect of Dot's volunteer role is fundraising. 'We run fundraising events like our Garden Walk, Trivia Nights and our annual Oaks Day which is very popular. We also receive donations from organisations like Lions Club and Rotary.'
Dot believes the volunteers at Sunraysia Cancer Resources make a big difference in the community. 'Organisations like this one are necessary for peace of mind – just to know there's somewhere you can go for answers and support if you need them is really important.'
Dot's advice to anyone considering volunteering is to just give it a try. She also says it's important to remember that family comes first. Volunteering shouldn't get in the way of your family responsibilities so there's no need to let that stop you giving it a go.
'It's not the same as a job. A few of us at the Sunraysia Cancer Resources have grandchildren and if something comes up with them, then that's what you have to do, and someone else can step in to volunteer in your place.'
Sunraysia Cancer Resources is in Mildura, call them on 5025 8866 for more information