We all know someone affected by cancer. The stats speak for themselves: in 2018 alone, 16,300 women and 15,800 men were diagnosed with cancer in Scotland. There are numerous cancer charities out there and, unless you’ve been hiding in a bunker, you will have noticed large national campaigns supporting the latest medical breakthrough in tackling the ‘biggest killer’.
While this work is clearly critical, I’ve often wondered beyond medicine, what other support is available to deal with the complex needs of cancer patients? Emotional support, mental health and wellbeing are all so important – we are constantly reminded of the need to consider our mental health as an equal partner to our physical health. So, what can be done about it?
And the answer to these questions are, literally, right on my own doorstep. I recently found out about the brilliant work of the charity Cancer Support Scotland, who are based at Gartnavel Hospital Campus which I walk through every day on the way to Hyndland Station.
Cancer Support Scotland is a charity dedicated to supporting cancer patients and their families through their difficult journey of diagnosis and ill health. They were founded in 1980 by Professor Kenneth Calman, a leading light in cancer research and previous Chief Medical Officer of Scotland. He’s also father to the comedian Susan Calman, who happens to be an ambassador for the charity. Professor Calman’s vision was to have emotional support readily available to cancer patients in a way that matches professional standards of clinical service.
The Calman Cancer Support Centre, where the charity is based, is set within the old Gartnavel Royal Hospital Chapel. The chapel was renovated and reopened its doors in 2012 after an extensive refurbishment which has seen it redesigned in an appropriately sympathetic way. The building includes therapy suites, counselling rooms, an information centre with internet access and library facility, hairdressing and wig fitting salon, offices and a peaceful sensory garden.
It’s not just here in Glasgow where the good work happens however, Cancer Support Scotland has Outreach centres throughout the central belt of the country for those that cannot travel to Gartnavel.
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of ‘Tak Tent’ (taken from the old Scot’s phrase ‘take care’) the predecessor to Cancer Support Scotland, which set out to meet the needs of patients and their families within an informal setting.
Cancer Support Scotland’s mission remains simple yet ambitious: to support the wellbeing of people who have suffered the emotional, physical and mental strains of cancer. Tailored emotional and practical support comes from trained counsellors and qualified therapists specialising in oncology. For example, cancer patients are offered counselling sessions, complementary therapies, podiatry, bereavement and stress management. And it’s all completely free.
‘Emotional support and counselling services are essential to help people through the cancer journey,’ explains Rob Murray, CEO of Cancer Support Scotland. ‘Our services are proven to improve the wellbeing of people who have suffered the emotional, physical and mental strains of cancer. Our feedback surveys confirm that people sleep better, anxiety is reduced and physical pain and discomfort from chemotherapy and radiotherapy is eased.’
The work of Cancer Support Scotland is clearly needed. In 2017/18, 6,500 appointments were made by people wanting access to their services, which was a 20% increase on the year before. One service-user comments, ‘This is a real haven, very supportive staff, great therapists, lovely surroundings and I no longer feel alone.’
A recent Scottish Government Cancer Patient survey highlighted that just over half of respondents (55%) felt they were completely supported emotionally / psychologically by healthcare professionals during their treatment, showing an increasing demand for such support.
Rob Murray continues, ‘Our services make life easier for people affected by cancer and our services are free. This helps people using our services avoid the additional burden of financial stress. We do not receive any public funding and rely solely on the generosity of others to ensure our services are accessible for all.’
Cancer Support Scotland is calling out for members of the public to get involved in their fundraising efforts. If, like me, you’ve been inspired by what you’ve learnt about Cancer Support Scotland, you may want to consider the numerous ways you can help, such as volunteering as a counsellor, raising funds as you run this year’s Great Scottish Run, or signing up for the Ladies Lunch at the Radisson Blu on 6th of October.
Rob Murray concludes, ‘Often people visit Cancer Support Scotland because they simply want a quiet space to sit or have the time to talk over coffee with one of our volunteers, that’s why our kettle is always on.’
Visit: cancersupportscotland.org, call 0141 337 8199, or email firstname.lastname@example.org about volunteering opportunities.