Wait for usable shower goes on

Alexandra woman Carla Hill and her son Nate Alexander, 15, are battling ACC to have a shower...
Alexandra woman Carla Hill and her son Nate Alexander, 15, are battling ACC to have a shower installed in their home so that Ms Hill, who has breast and skeletal cancer, does not have to go to the swimming pool to use one there. PHOTO: SHANNON THOMSON
The ability to have a hot shower in your own home is something most New Zealanders take for granted — but for one Alexandra cancer patient that is out of reach.

Alexandra woman Carla Hill, 46, was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2021.

Tests at the time revealed cancer had entered her skeletal system and it has now advanced to her back and hips.

Last year, she fractured her back, causing nerve pain and affecting her ability to walk unaided and to do everyday tasks.

She now relies on her teenage son, Nate Alexander, 15, and carers for help.

It is not the first time Ms Hill has faced "the Big C". In 2007, while pregnant with Nate, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

It was the radiation treatment used to fight that cancer that caused the breast cancer she now lives with.

The news was a blow.

"I was angry and sad, but we worked through it and at the moment I’m in a good place.

"I’ve worked through a whole lot of emotions talking about it and I am in a lot better place than back then."

Confirmation the breast cancer was a treatment injury allowed Ms Hill to access support from ACC and she has been provided with walking and other aids for support.

However, it is the ability to shower at home which is proving the biggest struggle.

Ms Hill is unable to step up and into the older-style shower in her rental, or support herself while she washes.

She faces the same problem with the bath.

A bath bench and bath lift provided by ACC leave her sitting above the water.

A handheld shower installed over her bath was also not an option as Ms Hill would not be able to hold it.

An ACC housing assessment in October found a wet floor bathroom would need to be installed.

Seven months on, little progress has been made, and Ms Hill has resorted to showering at her parents’ place nearby and at the Alexandra swimming pool.

In January, Ms Hill met her occupational therapist and an ACC-appointed architect regarding bathroom modifications. Discussions also included the installation of an outside Highlander portable shower unit while construction took place.

Ms Hill’s landlord supported the modifications and offered to install a temporary shower box until the renovations were completed.

A quote was submitted to ACC for the temporary shower box but since then things had stalled, Ms Hill said.

"Initially, ACC have been very good with [support]; it’s just the shower is something I thought, ‘Yep, I’ll put up with for a wee bit’, so I didn’t hound them, I wasn’t on at them.

"But as time’s gone on, and people like my hospice nurse have rung them up ... You feel like a whinger, but it gets to the point of it’s never gonna get done and it will be winter and I’ll still be going outside and showering, going to the pool", she said.

"[ACC] talked about getting a Highlander shower, which is a portable shower that would go outside. I said, ‘Well, that’s fine, but when winter comes, it still means I’m going outside, coming back in cold and wet’.

"It’s gets me down", she said.

Nate said the situation made him angry and he was concerned about his mother’s health and wellbeing.

"Like every New Zealander, being able to have a shower in their own home and being able to feel clean and look good is a basic need and surely is a basic human right. How would you feel if this was you or your mother? Would you put up with this?"

ACC service delivery deputy chief executive Amanda Malu said the organisation’s priority was to make sure Ms Hill’s injury-related needs were met "as soon as possible".

"I am sorry to hear about Carla’s health and mobility challenges and understand this must be a very difficult time for her", she said.

"Carla is getting rehabilitation support through physiotherapy, occupational therapy, home help, housing equipment and help with transport costs."

ACC had agreed to permanent modifications to improve the access and use of Ms Hill’s bathroom, an emergency bedroom egress, widened doorway access and an accessible wardrobe.

Work had not started because Ms Hill’s landlord wanted other home improvements done at the same time and wished to use his own builder, she said.

ACC had scheduled a site visit with Ms Hill, her landlord and building supplier Enable NZ and was monitoring progress to ensure the work was prioritised.

The organisation expected to get building cost estimates from the architect following the site visit.

"The time taken to complete housing modifications depends on several factors, such as the scope and complexity of modifications, availability of builders and materials, and the involvement of other parties, councils and disability services.

"However, our goal is to have the modifications done as safely and as quickly as possible", Ms Malu said.