What does working on the Support Line involve, day to day?

We provide support and guidance to anyone in the UK affected by cancer, including patients, relatives, carers, friends and people who are worried about cancer. As experienced cancer nurses, we offer this support over the phone and through digital channels such as email, the Online Community and webchat.

We cover all cancer types and topics from diagnosis to tests and treatment, and end of life support. People who built up a relationship with us while their loved one was having cancer treatment  often contact us again after the person has died to talk through what happened. So, we support people from the beginning of the pathway right to the end.

We also get involved with teaching and mentoring new team members, as well as a range of other projects. And I’m a well-being champion, which is keeping me very busy in the current climate. No day is ever the same.

When did you join the Support Line and why?

I’ve been on the Support Line for nearly two years. I’ve worked in cancer care since I qualified in 2009. My last role was a Clinical Nurse Specialist for upper gastro-intestinal, pancreas and liver cancers at Leeds Cancer Centre, managing those services as a band 7 nurse.

I’ve always wanted to work for Macmillan, and I was already doing quite a lot of telephone clinics to prevent people  having to travel unnecessarily. Having spent several years in one specialism, I was also interested to step out and learn more about other cancers, and what was happening in cancer care more broadly.

What do you enjoy about the role?

All the nurses on the Support Line come from different clinical backgrounds, which I think is what makes this service so unique. There is so much knowledge within one team and I’ve learned a lot. It’s also a privilege to be able to support people wherever they are in the country, even if they don’t have a Macmillan centre nearby – we don’t have the postcode lottery issue here. The fact that we are now a seven-days-a-week service is great. I also love working with all the different teams across the organisation, who have completely different areas of expertise.

What are the biggest challenges?

Some days the calls are very emotionally challenging and I’m not sure I was totally prepared for that in the beginning. I think perhaps people see us as more anonymous on the phone and feel comfortable telling us things that we maybe wouldn’t have heard in clinics. Increasingly, we are getting a lot of calls from people with mental health issues, both people living with cancer and those who are worried about cancer, and that’s challenging because we’re not mental health nurses.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your role?

 It’s very difficult for people out there with cancer at the moment, and the number of calls has massively increased. People are not getting treatment or are having it postponed; they can’t see family and friends and often only speak to their healthcare teams over the phone, so it’s really tough. We also speak to bereaved people who are not able to grieve in the way they would like, for example with a funeral or seeing family and friends.

The Macmillan Support Line is a huge asset at this time. That’s why we wanted to get back to a seven-days-a-week service, with everyone working from home as soon as we could. We had the usual teething issues with IT at first, but we got up and running very quickly. However, we’re used to being able to check in with each other straight after a call, or reflect on calls on the way home, but now it’s much harder to let go of work at the end of the day. We’ve needed to find new ways of looking after ourselves and supporting each other virtually.

'All the nurses on the support line come from different clinical backgrounds'

Has the coronavirus pandemic changed how the Support Line might work in the future?

It’s made us all realise we can adapt quickly when we need to. It also works well for some people to be more flexible with where they work, so we may look at introducing more home working, as long as there is a balance with face-to-face support for staff. 

During this time, we’ve networked virtually and explored new ways of supporting each other which has been really interesting. I’ve even been hosting Skype meditation sessions for colleagues, which have worked really well. So there are things that we will learn from and hopefully take forward.

We are also currently recruiting more home-based nurses for the  Support Line. This opens up these roles to any nurse, anywhere in the country. This is an exciting opportunity that will change the way we work in the future.

Are you interested in becoming a Macmillan Professional? Why not take a look at our latest vacancies on the NHS Jobs website today?