3 February 2016
Carol offers emotional support to people affected by cancer
As Thursday 4 February marks World Cancer Day, it’s important to remember that it’s not just the physical effects of cancer that patients and their loved ones face, but also psychological ones. Dealing with emotions can be difficult for people affected by cancer and many find it hard to share how they are feeling.
Carol Hughes is the Macmillan Therapeutic Counsellor in the Oncology Service at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham. She works closely with specialist nurses to provide psychological support and counselling to patients and their families throughout diagnosis, treatment and after care.
‘When the clinical nurse specialists identify individuals that could benefit from counselling or learning skills, they, with the individual’s consent, are referred to me. The first thing I do is listen to the patient’s story and we discuss what they would like to get out of our sessions. It may just be a place to articulate what is happening to them and how they feel about that. If they decide it’s the right thing for them, we may then work on techniques such as relaxation and mindfulness meditation to help improve their psychological well-being.’
'Surviving difficult and traumatic cancer treatments can be like reaching solid ground after surviving a shipwreck. Only when you reach the island and feel terra firma, in other words you feel safe, can you turn around and really look at what you've been through.'
Sonia, 69, from Gloucestershire, had help from Carol after she was diagnosed with two unrelated cancers: ‘When I first started with Carol I was crying most of the time because I felt so ill from the chemotherapy. But she always knew the right thing to say, I can’t have more praise for her. I found Carol’s shipwreck analogy particularly helpful: you’re looking back at all the flotsam and jetsam which are the treatments and surgery, but you’ve just got to let them go. When we spoke, we’d have a chat about my feelings, my fears…she’d reassure me and would do mindfulness over the phone. She’d speak to me for about an hour every week.’
Carol’s role also sees her working with organisations to provide support to staff and colleagues working with cancer patients: ‘My role sometimes involves patient advocacy when patients wish me to contact workplaces or schools and advise on how best to support the patient themselves, and sometimes to support staff who become distressed,’ Carol explained.
To Carol, the most rewarding part of her role is knowing that she has made a difference to someone at an incredibly difficult time in their lives.
‘It might be something dramatic like using imagery to relieve pain, or something less dramatic like knowing I’ve gained trust which has allowed someone to utter what had been unspeakable. Sometimes people share things they have carried alone for years,’ Carol said.
No one should face cancer alone. For support, information, or if you just want a chat, call Macmillan free on 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm) or visit macmillan.org.uk.