Macmillan Cancer Support and Self Help UK have joined forces to launch an innovative new service to support people affected by cancer in Nottinghamshire with all their practical and emotional needs.
The ‘Macmillan Beyond Diagnosis Gateway’, which has benefitted from £550,000 of Macmillan funding, aims to help patients, carers and people recovering from cancer overcome the everyday challenges which have been exacerbated by the pandemic and take back some normality.
From preparing for hospital appointments to occasional shopping, collecting medication and household jobs, the service aims to ease some of the anxiety people affected by cancer are experiencing as a result of the pandemic, which has led to delays in cancer treatment, late diagnosis and more than a quarter of a million people shielding.
Delivered in partnership with Self Help UK, the support will be provided by an army of local volunteers, many of whom have been affected by cancer themselves. It will expand on the existing successful befriending scheme that has supported more than 153 people in the last two years across Nottinghamshire.
Femi Folorunso, 44, from Nottingham is one of the Self Help UK volunteers for the new Macmillan Beyond Diagnosis Gateway.
He decided to become a volunteer after he was diagnosed with throat cancer and received Macmillan support. At the time, his wife was still living in his home country Nigeria and was pregnant with their first child, so he underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment alone.
He said: “The treatment was something very difficult to explain. It made life horrible. The effects and impacts of the treatment are still with me. Initially, I struggled to talk to my wife because she was in my country, Nigeria, at the time. She was expecting our first child. I eventually broke the news to her after she had the baby and it was really devastating to her and all the family. I didn’t have any family here so I was lonely but the Pastor of my church, members of the church and a few friends were of great help.”
Through his experience Femi was supported by a Macmillan Dietician who provided emotional as well as practical support.
He continued: “I believe one of the major challenges people affected by cancer face is loneliness. I can say this from experience and I have witnessed it. So, befriending, supporting and engaging them in different activities helps to reduce the burden of loneliness. I believe my experience has been very useful in my role as a volunteer because having an idea of what someone is going through positions us to attend to their needs more proactively. More so, I use the opportunity to focus them on the bright side of life.”
The service currently has 70 volunteers and aims to match them with people affected by cancer according to their interests and where they live to help them build a lasting relationship.
Anne Greatorex, 62, from Bakersfield, lost her husband Peter to bowel cancer just weeks after they celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary. Her son has autism and is in supported living and with no other family close by and a national lockdown, she became very isolated.
She was paired with a volunteer on the Macmillan Beyond Diagnosis Gateway two months ago.
She said: “I would go for days without speaking to anybody. Everyone kept going on about having a bubble, but I didn’t have any family to be in a bubble with. I used to have two friends who would come to visit but obviously that had to stop. I feel like I’ve lost half of myself. Peter and I have been inseparable since I was 17 and did everything together. We didn’t need anyone else. Life has completely changed now he’s gone. I still think about him every day.”
She continued: “It’s nice to have somebody phoning me, to have someone to talk to. We have similar interests, she likes walking and history like me. We chat on zoom once and week and talk about all sorts, not necessarily Peter. It’s just nice to have someone to take my mind off things for a while.”
Anne also found comfort in a virtual craft group set up by the service during the pandemic to help people affected by cancer to connect with one another.
“A neighbour taught me how to crochet just after Peter was diagnosed. It took my mind off the cancer for a brief while. Because we had to live with it every minute of every day. The craft group meets once a month on zoom. It’s a chance to talk to other people too, it’s really helped me.”
Cath Cameron-Jones from Self Help UK is the Macmillan Beyond Diagnosis Gateway Manager and runs the Nottinghamshire service.
“The Macmillan Beyond Diagnosis Gateway aims to empower people affected by cancer and help them to overcome some of the practical and emotional challenges which a cancer diagnosis can present. Whether someone is recovering from cancer treatment, caring for someone with cancer or bereaved, it is often the little things that make a big difference and help people to feel ‘normal’ again.”
Cath continued: “The pandemic has exacerbated some of the practical and emotional issues experienced by the 27,850 people living with cancer in Nottinghamshire, people are increasingly isolated and can make things like picking up groceries or going for a hospital appointment difficult if they are shielding or don’t have access to their usual support networks. That’s where our volunteers come in. With the extra funding from Macmillan we will be able to expand the existing befriending service to help more people in their hour of need as they face the dual pressures of cancer and covid-19. Our service aims to support people through the difficult times enabling them to build confidence and retain their independence moving forward. We must ensure cancer does not become the ‘forgotten C’.”
If you need support or would like to become a Self Help UK volunteer for the Macmillan Beyond Diagnosis Gateway visit https://www.selfhelp.org.uk/projects/macmillan-beyond-diagnosis or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or call 0115 9111662
Macmillan will do whatever it takes to support people living with cancer during covid. If you or someone you love has cancer, the Macmillan Support Line is open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm. For information or just someone to talk to, call 0808 808 00 00 or visit macmillan.org.uk