Cancer patients are being urged to contact a new helpline if they are in need of extra support.
Living with Cancer and Beyond launched the service at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic but has had just three calls for help since lockdown began.
With more than 14,000 patients GP practices across Cumbria registered with a cancer diagnosis, those behind the scheme are concerned about the drastic shortage of calls.
The helpline, which is open every Wednesday and Thursday between 9.30pm and 4.30pm, is available to cancer patients as well as those caring for loved ones.
Coordinator Jane Macfarlane says with many people having to isolate, as coronavirus poses a high risk to cancer patients, this kind of support is needed more than ever.
“We know that having a cancer diagnosis is a worrying time and even more so now with the current Covid19 pandemic,” she says.
“People are probably focused on the pandemic and trying to think about too many things at once is maybe just too much. They’re trying to make sure they are safe and leaving everything else on hold.
“We’ve got loads of capacity and volunteers ready to help.”
Volunteer Joyce Matthews knows first-hand just how difficult it can be without support.
Her husband Andy Whittington was given the devastating news that he had terminal kidney cancer in 2014. He died two years later, aged 61.
“It was hard. Our roles within our marriage completely changed from being partners to me taking over the helm and looking after him. The psychological aspect was probably the worst, knowing I was going to lose him,” says Joyce. “And having to prepare for that, not just psychologically but making sure we had everything in place so I could deal with everything.
“We were lucky that we had two years. We knew it was terminal from the beginning so we did have time to sort things out and talk to each other about it as well.”
For the first 18 months, Joyce and Andy had no support whatsoever.
“As his health got worse, we were getting a bit desperate because we felt very alone. We didn’t know what support was available. It became horrendous,” says Joyce, 63.
They were then allocated a Macmillan nurse and from that point it transformed how they felt about the whole thing.
Joyce, a nurse at Keswick Hospital, who has also worked with Macmillan on their nurse helpline, says that it would have been a huge help to have had support from something like Living with Cancer and Beyond from the start, so she could talk about her frustrations and be given an idea of the support available.
Anyone accessing the helpline can talk about what they’re going through. The volunteers will also signpost callers to any services they might benefit from, such as Hospice at Home.
“I have got a couple of callers I call fortnightly. For them, the crucial thing is that I have gone through exactly what they are going through now,” said Joyce.
“Having your own personal knowledge helps you empathise with what they are going through.
“It makes me feel good to know I’m helping. It feels so worthwhile and gives me a buzz that they have benefitted from the call. That’s why I do the work, to help people.”
She is urging anyone in need of help to get in touch.
“Just pick up the phone,” Joyce adds. “What the callers I speak to appreciate most is being able to chat. They just want to be able to offload. That’s the biggest benefit of what we provide.
“Sometimes people don’t want to admit to their families that they are struggling, whereas it can be easier to talk to a stranger. It can all come out and that really helps them.
“If you need to talk, give us a ring. We are listeners.”
Living with Cancer and Beyond was just gathering momentum as the coronavirus crisis began to unfold. It was already taking referrals from nurses and is continuing to support those patients. But with just three new contacts made since the start of lockdown, Jane and the team know there are more people they can help.
The scheme – available in the north Cumbria area – is being run through Cumbria CVS in partnership with Macmillan and is funded through the North Cancer Alliance.
Call the helpline on 01228 525197 or email [email protected]. Messages can also be left on the helpline numbers outside of its opening times.