More and more people are surviving cancer, but as I mentioned in my last blog ‘You are not alone: life after cancer’ that can just mean another chapter opening – and in this ‘Cancer-Talk’ I want to shine the spotlight on my local Holistic Centre and how it has helped get me through some dark patches on my cancer journey.
For while frontline treatment and detection rates are improving and the taboo surrounding the Big C word is softening as sufferers become more open about having cancer, so too is the realisation that fighting cancer causes emotional as well as physical strain.
Like a growing number of cancer patients, I’ve found it helpful to put pen to paper and record a blog from finding out almost by chance that I had cancer to telling people what the treatment is like from my personal experience.
But my cancer journey, as we patients sometimes call it, was also eased by making good use of the Trinity Holistic Centre at my local James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.
I had great support from family and some close friends during my physical treatment for cancer. The hospital staff including the specialist bowel cancer nurses and consultants Hans Van der Voet and Doug Aitken, and the radiographers, chemo day unit team and other NHS staff who have helped me along the way have been marvellous.
But the Holistic Centre has also proved to be a lifeline by filling the void between different stages and giving me a continual link with the health service while waiting for my two operations and other treatment. There’s nothing like aromatherapy to put you at ease before a CT or MRI scan
Immune system down
Just getting me out of the house for an hour or so while my immune system was down during chemo and I had to stay away from crowds and avoid public transport was invaluable.
And the centre, based in a 13-year-old purpose-built building within the grounds of James Cook Hospital, continues to be there as I try to improve my sleep hygiene and look for ways to relax while waiting for my first colonoscopy since bowel cancer surgery last year.
I’ve never been a great sleeper since waking at 2am for a couple of hours study for my distance learning master’s degree when the kids were still at home.
But now I sometimes go all night without more than 20 winks and am too reliant on sleeping tablets to get a proper night’s slumber.
Enrich group session
I joined a new six-week group session at the Holistic Centre called ‘Enrich’ where we share our experiences of fighting cancer and its aftermath and look at coping strategies for low morale, anxiety and stress with two trained counsellors.
I have also found the mindfulness drop-in sessions led by ex-teacher Chris King very useful in trying to focus on the ‘here-and-now’ rather than worry too much about the past or the future.
According to Heather McLean, business manager at the Trinity Holistic Centre, the group sessions are very much part of future growth plans for the centre, which relies on charitable donations to provide its services.
Heather and her trusted sidekick, Kathryn Almond, took over running the centre two years ago and since then the numbers using the complementary therapies and other resources have swelled from 600-a-year to 2,500.
With the hospital handling over 3,500 cancer patients a year, there’s still a need to expand as a sizeable number are missing out on what’s available.
Heather says: “We used to offer just six free sessions and that was it; but we feel that sometimes patients need to be made more aware of how we can help at different times during their cancer journey.
“So, working with the six new cancer co-ordinators appointed by the local NHS trust and Macmillan Cancer Support, we hope to reach out to patients during the stressful period between diagnose and treatment starting.
“We also want to be there when treatment ends and patients are struggling to get back to a degree of normality.
“That’s where the group sessions can be so important. We can serve more people; and simply sharing experiences with other cancer patients can be great therapy.”
I’d agree with that and can’t praise the approach being taken by the health service enough in recognising that tackling immediate physical needs of cancer sufferers is only part of the story.
The psychological impact needs tackling, too, and that’s why the work of the Holistic Centre is so important and deserves all our support.