Breast cancer, my union and me

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – a worldwide annual campaign involving thousands of organisations highlighting the importance of breast awareness, education and research. UNISON is the largest women’s organisation in the country with over one million female members. Here’s just one story of how the union helped a member with breast cancer

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UNISON is the largest women’s organisation in the UK, bringing together more than one million female workers.

Sadly, too many members are touched by breast cancer. To mark Breast Cancer Awareness month we spoke to one member about her experience and the support UNISON provides.

Liz Potter was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in the summer of 2013 at the age of 49. Her employer was thankfully supportive and signed Liz off on full pay for the duration of her treatment.

However, despite this, Liz found herself struggling to pay the bills and stressed about how to cope, while going through one of the toughest times in her life.

“Treatment was a rollercoaster. But at the same time I was struggling to even put petrol in my car. The amount of trips to the hospital really impacted our living costs. I also needed new glasses as the treatment changed my eyesight.

“Plus my fuel bills were going sky high, as I had to stay at home a lot during chemo to ensure I didn’t catch any bugs. I was a low-paid part time worker as it was. It felt like I couldn’t afford cancer.”

Liz spoke to her local UNISON branch, who encouraged her to apply to UNISON’s welfare charity, There For You, for a grant .

“The welfare officer even helped me fill in the forms. And I couldn’t believe it when I got a call saying they’d given me £800 to help me cope with all the mounting bills.

“Then they said that whenever I felt well enough there was another £350 for a ‘wellbeing break’ down at UNISON’s holiday resort in Croyde Bay. We could afford to go away! I was delighted.

“I was feeling pretty awful. I’d got a bit depressed. Even my mouth had gone horrible.

“It just makes you give up a bit. But knowing I had that wellbeing break to look forward to, it honestly kept me going during those dark days.

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“Croyde was just what I needed after all my treatment. It gave me a new lease of life. We loved walking on the beach, all the fantastic meals – there’s a big bowl of clotted cream with your pudding every night! – and it really gave my husband a boost as well.

“He’d been going through it all with me, so really needed the R&R too.

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“I’m a workplace contact, so know a fair bit about UNISON but even I was amazed that so much additional support was available.

“I want all members to know that UNISON are there to help them, in ways that probably hasn’t even crossed their mind.”

The experience has made Liz even more committed to her union. When we spoke to her she’d just got back from an anti-austerity march where she’d proudly emblazoned across her chest ‘I ❤️ NHS’.

“To think that everyone’s subs helped me get through the worst period of my life,” she recalls. “That makes me proud that I’m a UNISON member and my subs go towards helping other people.

“Sometimes members might wonder about leaving and what the union does – well I can tell you, my union came to my rescue and saved me during the hardest time in my life.”

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“It’s about what others are paying in to help you in hard times, and what you’re paying in to help others. That’s what unions are about.”

Liz’s employer was supportive and ensured she received what she was entitled to.

However we know this might not always be the case. That’s why your branch is there to support you and ensure your employer supports you. If you’ve been recently diagnosed contact your local branch.

There For You is UNISON’s exclusive charity that supports members when times get tough. For more information visit unison.org.uk/thereforyou or call 020 7121 5620

UNISON are mindful that we represent so many women, which is why we’ve negotiated access for members to female cancer cover with one of our trusted affinity partners. Visit benefits.unison.org.uk

Croyde Bay is owned and operated by UNISON and offers members great discounts. Visit croydeunison.co.uk