Karen Daniels, a mother of two from Auckland, was only 41 when she received her diagnosis of incurable stage 4 breast cancer.
“I was so shocked when I heard the diagnosis,” says Karen. “I couldn’t understand how this could be happening to me. I was young and fit. I was a regular at the gym, training six days a week for power lifting competitions.
“I just cried – mostly I cried for my children. How could I tell them? I knew I needed to be strong for my children and for my family. But it really wasn’t easy.”
“My life and my world turned upside down. I found Sweet Louise at just the right time.”
Sweet Louise is the only organisation in New Zealand working to support Kiwis with incurable breast cancer. The organisation currently supports 730 women and their families right across the country, providing one-to-one emotional and practical support.
Sweet Louise CEO, Catrin Devonald, says: “Karen’s story is similar to many of the women we work with. Over half are under the age of 59 and many have children under the age of 18.
“Being told that your cancer is incurable is devastating. For most women, their first thoughts are for their children. Members of the Sweet Louise community tell us these feelings of fear and shock are compounded by a lack of understanding of their disease. New Zealanders have a good understanding of breast cancer thanks to good information and publicity, but I don’t believe that’s the case for incurable stage 4 breast cancer.”
“Sweet Louise aims to help women with incurable breast cancer understand more about their disease,” adds Catrin. “We want them to know they aren’t alone, to help them find the strength to be there for their children and families, and to help them live as well as possible for as long as possible.”
Shortly after her diagnosis, Karen was forced to give up her full-time job. She found she could no longer lift up her arm because she was in so much pain. In 2019 she returned to part-time work, but before long, was advised to stop that as well because of her health. Financial hardship can increase anxiety and what is already an incredibly difficult and stressful time for families.
Sweet Louise helps by providing women like Karen with $500 worth of financial assistance each year to spend on practical support including getting home meals delivered, transport costs for hospital visits, garden and home help, wellbeing therapies and family outings.
“Cancer can be so exhausting,” says Karen.
“There are times I can’t walk and times I cannot even stand to cook. Having access to frozen meals and meal deliveries for myself and the family has been so valuable.
Donate to help a mum like Karen
“With the current Covid -19 crisis, I have been very worried to be part of the vulnerable, at-risk group. It has extended my feeling of isolation and fear. But the Sweet Louise Zoom meetings and online support group has really helped. Talking with others who understand exactly what I am going through gives me hope and inspiration – as well as valuable advice. I know Sweet Louise is always at the end of the phone. At any time, I can reach out and know I am not alone.”
Sweet Louise is appealing to the generosity of fellow Kiwis to help provide vital ongoing support as well as meals and home help for families like Karen’s who are coping with cancer at this challenging time.
“Like many charities, Sweet Louise has cancelled fundraising events right at a time when we are seeing an increase in demand for our services,” adds CEO Catrin Devonald.
“Social isolation and financial strain have taken a big toll on families negotiating life with incurable breast cancer. Despite the difficult circumstances for charities, our team around New Zealand are working harder than ever to reach all our women with incurable breast cancer to make sure they are getting the support they need.”
For Karen, life with incurable breast cancer has prompted her to reflect on what’s important in life. She adds: “I try to keep positive for my family who depend on me.
"I don’t need pity. Kiwi women are resilient. I can’t change what has happened, but I can get on with my life.”