Cancer Support Scotland provides emotional and practical support on a one to one basis, and through community groups, to anyone affected by cancer, including family and carers. The period in life following the completion of cancer treatments is often found to be the most difficult time for the patient. Cancer Support Scotland recognize that this is when the patient is at their most vulnerable, and therefore seek to help those going through this experience in a number of incredible ways. “People’s lives have changed, and it’s often the loneliest time for many… Coming here for complementary therapy or a stress management course can play a huge part in people’s lives, to improve during that traumatic time.”
All of the services provided by Cancer Support Scotland are delivered free of charge, and this organisation receive no governmental funding. They therefore rely entirely on the generosity of their supporters, and Trusts such as ours, to enable them to continue delivering specialist care to the people who need. The JMA has provided two separate grants to them in recent years, assisting with their funding towards both counselling and stress management services. Recently, we were really pleased to meet with Faith Nicholson, their Trusts and Legacies Officer, and Colin Graham, the Chief Executive. Our visit took place in the beautiful location of the Calman Cancer Support Centre, their ‘home base’, in the grounds of Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow.
In November 2015, Cancer Support Scotland applied for a JMA grant of around £2800, one of the first applications submitted to our newly founded Trust. This would help to protect them from introducing charges for support, and was calculated to fund the delivery of 120 counselling appointments to 20 people affected by cancer. Our Trustees were reminded very much of John and his experiences throughout his illness, and recognised how incredibly beneficial this organisation’s services must be to those who receive them. It was therefore unanimously decided that the JMA would award a total of £5000, to help them expand their counselling service even further.
Faith and Colin explained that around 70% of those accessing their services are either past or present patients. The Centre is home to multiple facilities, set out to assist people in so many different ways, from private counselling rooms and open social areas, to therapy rooms and a beautiful garden. Scroll through below to read a little more about the purpose of these spaces, and understand how Cancer Support accommodates to a wide variety of needs.
The private counselling rooms offer a comfortable space for individuals, or couples, to come and receive whatever type of support they require. All counsellors are qualified, and volunteer their time to the charity, leaving only costs and supervision to be paid for. The rooms provide a calming environment, encouraging those who use the service to feel peaceful during their sessions.
The therapy rooms have been designed with constant consideration for the needs of patients, to provide an accessible and relaxing environment. “We’ve tried to make them as non-clinical as possible. It is very much a place to relax, not think about hospitals and treatments.” All therapists have received specialist cancer training. This means they are knowledgeable about the treatment of scars, radiotherapy areas, oils that will not cause side-affects with other treatments, and so much more. Most commercial beauty spas cannot safely offer this type of service to cancer patients, so it is a wonderful offering made here at the Centre.
Their Chiropody and Podiatry service runs from an individual space. Feet are often affected by chemotherapy drugs. “If we can’t get people back on their feet, people will spend time in the house. So coming here to get everything sorted, allows people to get back up and out, those simple things like going out for a coffee with friends, or taking the dog for a walk, they’re the things that make life so much better.”
Their beautiful, peaceful garden at the back of the building is managed by a volunteer, Lynn, who lives locally. ““We’ll get people coming out here, having a cup of coffee and reading their book after their complementary therapy. Because they’re going home, and they may live in a tenement or another situation where they don’t have access to something like this. So 10 minutes in the sunshine will do them a power of good as well.”
Unfortunately, many will remain feeling unwell, have ongoing concerns that the cancer will return, and feel pressure to quickly acclimatise back into their own lives, when so much is different to before. “They realise their life has changed dramatically. Some will realise they don’t like the job they’re in, that they don’t want to do the thing they were doing previously for the rest of their life. “Life’s too short” is often a phrase said in here. Wanting to spend more time with their children, their grandchildren, going out to see the world, all the things like that are so often discussed. Priorities for people change. We’re not here to change people’s lives, but by speaking to a counsellor, it might help to put things in perspective. ‘What’s important to you?’ And that, for many people, would previously have been money, success, all these sorts of things. Then going forward, it changes – it’s about friends, family, social, fun, getting out and doing things.”
The other 30% of service users are patients’ family or carers, who also greatly benefit from the support. “It’s often not the patient that needs the help, it’s actually the carer and their support system… Family members and others will often be kept in the dark about what treatment the patient is going through, what’s actually going to happen, as the patient has had the discussions with the consultants. Trying to communicate that information they’ve had from the consultants can prove fairly difficult.”
One of the ways that they encourage these essential discussions is through their counselling service. “Counsellors often help patients with the communication of changes, be that to their children, to partners, helping to put these messages across when the person is unsure how to approach it. It can also be financial concerns, which we’ll then refer people on to other places. We’re a small organisation, but it’s such a major thing we do here. The NHS can’t do it, they’ve done what they promised to do. They are brilliant at fixing you. But they’re not able to do all of the absolute necessary follow up from that stage. That’s where all these other organisations, like ourselves, fill that gap.”
They also explained that for so many, the carer position is full time, and can prove both physically and mentally exhausting. The services at the centre provide a space for carers where they have essential relaxing and reflective time for themselves. “They can do it together, so the patient can come with their family member or carer, and they can both do something that’s actually for both of them. Rather than always being the focus on that one person, to cook their dinner, wash and clean everything, taking them to their appointments… So that’s the difference that we have that many other charities may not have, that we offer services to the carer and the family member, as well as the patient.”
More recently, in 2016, the JMA awarded a further £7700 to Cancer Support Scotland to assist in their delivery of Stress Management workshops. These were the organisation’s first group therapy services, which enabled them to support more people, particularly those who were unable to access their counselling service immediately due to the increasingly high demand. Each workshop is delivered by two therapists, and is designed to explain what stress is, factors that cause stress, the resulting effects, and finally, what can be done to manage this stress. “The workshops serve as an avenue for individuals to engage in self-reflection, as well as in group experiences revolving around important topics, and are based on general life-skill themes that allow for a comprehensive, holistic approach, with the aim of helping to reduce stress levels.” Participants were also invited back to the Centre for a complementary therapy treatment, six weeks after completing the workshop. Their JMA grant covered costs for payment to all the qualified staff necessary in this process, as well as the purchase of equipment and materials.
The JMA would like to thank Cancer Support Scotland for all of the incredible work involved in their organisation. The impact all of your services have on patients, family and carers is truly significant, and we know that you are helping so many through some of the most challenging and heart-breaking stages of their lives. Thankyou especially to Colin and Faith for taking the time to meet with us, and give us an amazing insight into your services, which have been built with a genuine desire to comfort and support others.