What a year it has been – definitely one that few of us will ever forget. When returning to the office in January 2020, none of us in our wildest dreams could have envisaged what lay ahead, how we would be challenged to the core, but how we would come out the other side stronger and more united than ever.
Foremost in our thoughts when the first COVID-19 restrictions were announced in mid-March were the cancer community who we serve as well as the staff of the Foundation. How could we continue our cancer awareness and support services when our nurses could not meet people face to face? How could we upskill our staff to continue their work remotely? What services would we be able to deliver on-line? How could we manage financially with all fundraising events cancelled and so much uncertainty into the future?
Recognising how cancer patients were categorised as high risk and often having to cocoon and self-isolate from home, we quickly transitioned our support group meetings and seminars to online webinars via Zoom and answered patient queries and concerns by phone. We developed a dedicated section on our website on COVID-19 and cancer, a new COVID-19 and cancer webinar series, as well as one for carers on a range of topics affecting people during the pandemic. We learned quickly how cancer patients living with advanced cancer really wanted to maintain that all-important contact with MKF and wanted to connect more regularly and in bigger numbers. The number of participants at our Positive Living meetings, for women living with metastatic breast cancer, continue to grow and we also moved our Survive and Thrive groups on-line so that people from all around Ireland were now able to join in, accessing vital support after treatment ends.
Engaging regularly with our board, we quickly identified any potential risks and specific issues faced by MKF and of immediate concern was the ability to pay our staff whilst continuing to provide our critical services given the enforced cancellation of our fundraising events. Our income forecasts were predicting a drop in income of as much as 35-40% so we quickly had to innovate and devise new on-line appeals and campaigns to fill the income gap.
We also engaged closely with our corporate partners who all came up trumps in their ongoing support and endorsement of MKF’s work – crucially enabling us to continue our important cancer awareness campaigns and programmes throughout the year. We ran full-blown skin cancer, prostate, breast and lung cancer campaigns with engagement levels on all channels reaching new records. We won the Irish HealthCare Award on December 3rd for best public health initiative for our breast campaign and in the same week won best Communications Campaign for our Lung Cancer Campaign at the Irish Pharma Awards. This all in the face of COVID-19 adversity making this recognition of our work all the more satisfying.
As a small tight-knit team with just 17 members of staff we were extremely concerned at our ability to retain our core office and nursing teams in view of COVID restrictions. A number of our nurses chose to take unpaid voluntary leave and remaining staff were put on the State Subsidy Scheme. Words cannot describe how proud I am of each and every one of the MKF team and Board of Directors who worked so hard – many of whom went through enormous personal sadness during the pandemic- to ensure that MKF came through this crisis with its head up high and actually in a much stronger financial position than was predicted when COVID first hit.
So whilst we are all so glad to see 2020 come to an end, we are so fortunate to be cautiously optimistic that a new year will bring more new possibilities for the Marie Keating Foundation.