Thousands of women in Victoria are diagnosed with breast or a gynaecological cancer each year. For women living outside of metropolitan areas, this can be particularly hard. In addition to having to travel longer distances for treatment, these women also have fewer options for support. Thanks to digital technology, distance is no longer a barrier to women from regional Victoria joining in Counterpart’s wellbeing-focused events.
'Being able to contact and access Counterpart remotely is a huge plus for those of us regionally’, says Renée, a young woman with cervical cancer. ‘Their support and resources are invaluable when you find yourself in need.’
Counterpart is a Victorian, statewide service of Women’s Health Victoria, that connects, supports and informs women with breast or a gynaecological cancer to live well. Peer support volunteers with their own experience of cancer provide understanding and support over the phone to women from across the state.
Finding other ways to support women in rural and regional Victoria has always been a priority for Counterpart. In 2014, Counterpart began running regular information sessions as webinars. In April 2020, with face-to-face events made impossible by the COVID-19 pandemic, all of Counterpart’s events moved online.
While information-based events fitted the webinar format quite easily, interactive sessions provided more of a challenge. These events include a diverse range of topics such as mindfulness or returning to work after a cancer diagnosis, and activities such as meditation or belly dancing. These became online workshops using Zoom meetings.
Counterpart staff have worked hard to make sure women have clear instructions about how to use the technology, and ensure that women have opportunities to talk or ask questions. ‘The advantage of using Zoom meetings for these types of events is that it allows women to interact with each other and the presenter. Unlike webinars, online workshops aren’t just about getting information’, says Counterpart Manager, Fiona McRae. ‘They allow women to really connect.’
Feedback from women who have attended these events have shown that women value the connections to other women, as well as the ability to join in from home. One participant wrote that ‘seeing people makes a huge difference for me at the moment. [Those at the session are] the only people I will see today’.
Victorian women with breast or a gynaecological cancer can book into upcoming events on the Counterpart website www.counterpart.org.au. All women with cancer can watch recordings of past webinars on the Counterpart website as well.