Make a big difference with small talk

Cancer can be an isolating and scary experience. If you don’t know anyone who’s been through it, every appointment and treatment can feel like you’re entering uncharted territory. But a chat with someone who’s been there can make a massive difference. 

Someone who understands this is Anne, a volunteer buddy who shares her own cancer experience to help others feel less alone. 

When Anne had radiotherapy for oesophageal cancer, a type of head and neck cancer, in 2010, she felt lost and wanted to talk to someone with a shared understanding of what she was going through.

Waiting room worries

'I was desperate to meet someone else having the same treatment who would understand how lonely I felt,’ she says. ‘In the waiting room I’d look for people who had the sculptured neck of people with oesophageal cancer, or who carried a water bottle for their dry mouth, like me. One day I spotted a chap who fitted this criteria, and we began to talk. It was wonderful to speak to someone who knew exactly what my cancer experience was like.’ 

When Anne heard about a Macmillan volunteer opportunity that involved giving peer support to people in hospital waiting rooms, she jumped at the chance. There are six buddies in the volunteer service at the Royal United Hospital in Bath who all cover different clinics for patients with head and neck cancer. The volunteers are always on hand to provide emotional support to people who are nervously awaiting appointments and results, or undergoing chemotherapy in the day unit.

The power of a pow wow

‘We were given full training for spotting open body language to work out who might want to talk and for starting conversations,’ she says. ‘We share our stories in an open and honest way so that they can see that someone else has been there, got through it and is still here. It’s a very powerful thing.’ 

Sometimes Anne finds it difficult to go back to the hospital environment as it brings back memories of her own experience. However, she overcomes her fears and continues to volunteer because she sees how important her role is. 

‘Giving back in this way is wonderful. It can be hard but I find it helps me to process what I went through and to see how far I’ve come. I can also see that I make a difference to other people, and that’s very rewarding.’ 

Remember, when you have cancer a simple hello can make all the difference. If you know someone who needs to talk, please let them know that they can call the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm).

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