New discount scheme to help NSW cancer patients

Melissa Hills

A new innovative partnership will provide NSW cancer patients with reduced rate accommodation options when they need to travel to Sydney for specialist treatment.

The new partnership between Cancer Council NSW and AccorHotels, which is a first of its kind, is designed to ease the financial burden by providing all cancer patients, carers and their family members access to hundreds of affordable rooms.

The scheme is available across 62 AccorHotels properties close to treatment facilities in greater Sydney and other locations across NSW, giving patients up to 30 per cent off the full price of hotel rooms.

The service will work alongside the current NSW Government’s Isolated Patients Transport and Accommodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAAS).

The family from Bulli, NSW are very pleased about the new scheme. Photo: Facebook

Luke Rollinson and his loved ones were the first family to take advantage of the scheme at Sydney’s Pullman Hotel this week.

Mr Rollinson, 34, his wife Katie and their children Eli, two, and Harper, 11 months, are regularly travelling up and down the coast between Sydney and Wollongong for cancer treatments and tests.

When Luke was 18 months old he was diagnosed with a childhood form of eye cancer known as Retinoblastoma.

Within 24 hours of being diagnosed, Luke had lost his right eye, with numerous tumours still present in his left eye.

Luke and Katie had no idea their children would inherit the cancer genes. Photo: Facebook

Fortunately for Luke, doctors at the Sydney eye hospital were able to monitor and treat these tumours with various forms of laser surgery and cryotherapy over the coming months and years.

Two years ago the couple discovered there was a 50 per cent chance the cancer could have been passed to their first son Eli.

7 News anchor Mark Ferguson helped host the launch event. Photo: Supplied

The couple did not know if Luke had the genetic form of RB, or a random form, so they never thought that passing this on genetically to their children would become a reality.

However, Luke and Katie noticed a white eye reflex (rather than red) in one of Eli’s photos early on, and at six months old he was diagnosed with RB after doctors at Westmead Children’s Hospital found a small tumour in his left eye.

“Katie and I were understandably gutted by this, however, with numerous rounds of laser and cryotherapy successfully treating this tumour to date, things have been looking positive for Eli since – his eyesight is good and the future looks good,” Luke said.

When Katie became pregnant with the couple’s second child they found out their baby girl had the RB gene, which gave her a 50 per cent chance of getting the cancer.

Luke with Eli as a baby. Photo: Facebook

Despite the shock the couple were able to start planning and put in place for Harper to be delivered early at 38 weeks so her eyes could be checked.

At just 8 days old, Harper went under anesthetic and a large tumour was found in her right eye.

Doctors at Westmead Childrens Hospital told the Rollinsons that they would have to start Harper on chemotherapy straight away.

“To say Katie and I were devastated was an understatement. Being a parent, all you want for your kids is for them to be healthy, and not knowing what would come of such treatment for our fragile baby girl was just heartbreaking for us.

“She was just so small, so little. It was just no way for someone to be welcomed into this world,” Luke said.

A Port-a-Cath was put into into Harper’s chest and now 11 months old she has had six rounds of chemotherapy, incorporating some five to six weeks of stay in both Westmead and Wollongong Hospitals, together with over 20 day trips to Westmead and almost the same to Wollongong Hospital for ongoing treatment, monitoring and testing.

Luke in one of the hotel rooms at the Pullman hotel in Sydney. Photo: Supplied

Luke said: “We are happy to report that while Harper’s cancer is still active, we're on top of it and hopefully we can kick its butt in the coming months.”

The Rollinsons say the new accommodation agreement will take a huge burden off for cancer patients and their families.

Katie was forced to sleep in a chair on the hospital ward when Harper began her chemotherapy for days on end.

Harper was also in hospital over the Christmas 2014 and New Year period and accommodation options for Luke and Eli where limited in terms of availability and affordability.

This resulted in Luke having to stay in a parent’s hostel at the other end of the hospital without Eli, as children were not allowed overnight.

Luke and Katie relied on family to look after Eli and drive him back and forth to Sydney to be with his sister and parents every few days.

Merewyn Partland, Director of Community Engagement Program Delivery at Cancer Council NSW said: “This new service will help cancer patients and their families rest easy knowing accommodation options close to their treatment facility will be available at a cost affordable to them.”

Cancer Council NSW CEO, Jim L’Estrange said, “This unique service will help to further ease the burden of cancer for the high number of cancer patients, carers and their families who we support on a local level in communities across NSW.”

Hotel staff will be trained to deal with specific dietary and housekeeping requirements. Rooms will have a Cancer Council NSW support pack providing information on other cancer support services, which will aid patients and their families during treatment away from home.

Cancer patients who require accommodation are encouraged to visit the Cancer Council NSW website or call 13 11 20 to discuss their options.