Coping with life after cancer can be tougher than you’d think.
But you no longer have to face it alone.
For the medical world now realises that many people often struggle to cope with the emotional fallout of cancer, whether months or years after treatment has ended.
It used to be assumed that the end of successful cancer treatment would bring relief, peace and celebration. But as I wrote in my last blog Handling the end of cancer treatment many ex-patients, including me, can sometimes feel cast adrift.
I think we actually miss the routine that treatment brings, with daily or weekly hospital visits and being part of a team fighting cancer.
My main problems are a combination of insomnia, fatigue and on-going concerns about sudden bowel movements, which restrict how far I dare go without pill popping some Loperamide.
And for the first time in my life my GP prescribed sleeping tablets and I’m in danger of getting addicted to them.
Help is at hand
So where can cancer survivors turn for help?
And I’ve just been lent a great book called ‘‘The Cancer Survivor’s Companion: Practical Ways to Cope with Your Feelings After Cancer’ by Dr Frances Goodhart and health journalist, Lucy Atkins (PIatkus).
It has won praise from TV medical pundit Dr Hilary Jones, who said: “As a GP, I wish I could write a prescription for this book for every single person who has confronted and then survived cancer.”
Also try to find out if there are cancer support groups in your area. These are well worth getting involved with. I’ve found talking to fellow cancer patients provides great reassurance that others are going through something similar to your cancer journey and you can pick up good tips from them.
Trinity Holistic Centre
If you are a cancer patient at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, then the Trinity Holistic Centre is a great place to turn to. It is part of the NHS, but kept going through charitable donations.
I used it both before and after my operations for bowel cancer and a hernia last year.
The aromatherapy sessions were a marvellous way to relax before CT and MRI scans.
The centre offers everything from complementary therapies, such as acupuncture and reflexology to counselling, and helped me to feel I was still in touch with the health service after the long months of chemotherapy came to an end in December.
More recently it has provided psychological support as I try to reduce my dependence on sleeping tablets and while I wait for my first colonoscopy since my bowel cancer operation last year!
I’ve joined two of its new drop-in sessions and hope to master relaxation techniques like mindfulness to help reduce my anxiety when I should be heading off to sleep at night.
I’m also experimenting with non-addictive alternative health store remedies, like Dormesean Sleep, with mixed results.
New cancer coordinators to the rescue
Mind my stress levels should have been soaring after finding out, almost by chance, that my colonoscopy was scheduled a fortnight AFTER my next three-monthly appointments with my two consultants.
Thank goodness James Cook Hospital and Macmillan Cancer Support have created six cancer care coordinators to help resolve and prevent mix-ups like this.
I met Linsey Woodhouse, coordinator for bowel cancer patients, at a support group meeting. I asked her to try and find out when my internal camera examination would be, as I had heard nothing, and told her my wife, Ann, didn’t want me to book a holiday abroad until we knew the results.
Linsey is now re-arranging things so the consultation comes when the results are known – and not a fortnight before my colonoscopy. Otherwise both my consultant surgeon Mr Doug Aitken and I would have little to talk about and we’d need a second meeting.
Don’t get me wrong, the NHS is a great service but it is also a big bureaucratic machine and I do wonder whether we are all just numbers to be crunched, and that includes the medics and other frontline health staff, as well as we patients.
This is not the first time I’ve had meetings planned ages in advance with a consultant BEFORE and not after vital scans and the busy doctor has had to apologise for wasting both our times.
So, my advice to fellow patients is to realise that thing like this can happen and not to be afraid to ring a consultant’s secretary or a specialist nurse if you think an appointment might need to be rearranged. Sometimes the cart can be put in front of the horse, but hopefully the new cancer coordinators can prove their worth by avoiding things like this happening in the future – at least at James Cook University Hospital.!
In my next blog, I’ll be talking to Heather McLean who is the business manager at the Trinity Holistic Centre about how services are expanding and her hopes and dreams for the future.