Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand CEO Peter Dickens was really hoping 2021 would be the year.
After Covid-19 lockdowns disrupted the charity’s annual fundraising effort in 2020, he felt confident that 2021 would see Blue September supporters rise to the challenge and raise the $1m needed to help support Kiwi men dealing with a prostate cancer diagnosis.
Instead, as New Zealand battles with alert level restrictions, he watches history repeating.
“Blue September is our annual fundraising drive, and our greatest tool in raising enough money to provide vital support for the 42,000 men currently living with prostate cancer in our country,” begins Dickens.
“Our supporters were all geared up to run Blue Do’s - blue themed morning teas and other social events – and although many have been able to come up with creative ideas within their bubbles, we’ve only been able to raise half the funds we need.”
A forecasted shortfall of up to $500,000 means those with prostate cancer – men such as 70-year-old Vivian Hahipene – are likely to miss out on access to support meetings, education and advocacy at a time when demand is rising.
Whakatane-based Hahipene was diagnosed in 2019 and experienced a journey sadly typical of that faced by regional, rural and Māori men – inequitable access to health services, lack of information, poor communication and treatment delays.
He is now working closely with the Foundation to champion improved diagnosis, treatment, support and safety for Māori men and their whānau in the Bay of Plenty.
He says he was able to lean on PCFNZ during the fight of his life.
“Men like me affected by prostate cancer rely on the wealth of information available through PCFNZ, the practical support they provide to help those going through treatment, the volunteers that lend a hand as well as the opportunities the charity creates so we can connect with others with prostate cancer,” says Hahipene.
The Foundation funds an extensive national support network for men and their families living with prostate cancer, including 45 support groups using the funds raised each year during Blue September. The impact of the lockdowns on fundraising this year may impact the ability of PCFNZ to maintain these and support the volunteers who lead them.
PCFNZ also provides short-term financial assistance to the men and their families forced into hardship by an unexpected prostate cancer diagnosis.
“The spectrum of work PCFNZ does for men like myself is extraordinary. It’s unthinkable that others might miss out on these important services,” Hahipene says.
Dickens agrees it would be a tragedy for the charity to face cutbacks as a result of a severe funding shortfall.
“If we add up our losses from 2020 and 2021, it’s around $800,000 which is a sizeable chunk of our operating costs,” he says. “Around 300 fundraising events have been cancelled across the country - all of which would have contributed towards our $1m goal.”
“The current situation could see the charity’s 0800 information helpline threatened, meaning over 400 men diagnosed with prostate cancer next year will miss out on information vital to making critical decisions on their treatment and support.”
And there are concerns, too, about the impact the lockdown has had on men needing regular PSA testing – the blood test that can indicate that urgent further investigation for prostate cancer by specialist clinicians is needed.
“Lockdowns have dramatically increased the possibility that thousands of men have delayed getting their PSA test. For the best possible outcome, we need these tests to be done sooner rather than later,” Dickens says.
One in eight Kiwi males develops prostate cancer in his lifetime – the disease affects more New Zealanders than breast cancer does. “We’ll lose another 55 men to prostate cancer next month,” warns Dickens, “and we’re worried that number will climb if testing doesn’t get back to pre-lockdown levels as quickly as possible.”
Although Blue September officially wraps up for another year this week, Dickens says there are still ways to donate.
“Those who wish to support us and help make up our two-year funding shortfall can make a donation at www.blueseptember.org.nz” he says.
“We are also always appreciative of the wonderful support we receive from our sponsors and partners, and we welcome consideration of bequests. We promise all funds will be put to good use.”