Laura Lee: It’s not over when cancer treatment stops

Maggie's Chief Executive Laura Lee. Picture: Michael Gillen
Maggie's Chief Executive Laura Lee. Picture: Michael Gillen
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A recent survey by charity Breast Cancer Care has revealed that more than a quarter of patients (26 per cent) said dealing with chemotherapy or radiotherapy was not as hard as coping with life after being discharged from hospital.

This is a sentiment that cancer support specialists in Maggie’s Centres see on a daily basis. Centre visitors often come to Maggie’s because they feel that it is one of the only places that they can continue to receive support after their treatment has finished.

There is a sense amongst people with cancer that once your treatment has finished, your friends and family will expect you to be happier because you are “better” and that you will return to “normal” life. However, for those leaving the relative safety of life as a cancer patient, with the strict regime of hospital appointments, treatments and check-ups, the feeling of loneliness and fear of recurrence can often increase. The research found that nine out of ten people surveyed did not feel completely ready to move on when their treatment was over.

People who come into Maggie’s Centres often tell us that they don’t feel able to talk to loved ones about these feelings post-treatment as they think it will be hard for them to understand and don’t want to let them down after all the support they have already given. The feeling of not having anyone to turn to when you are struggling with life post-cancer treatment can have a detrimental affect on both physical and mental wellbeing with more than half (53 per cent) of those surveyed saying that they struggled with anxiety once their hospital treatment had ended.

One of the many ways Maggie’s helps people after their treatment is finished is through our ‘Where Now?’ course. The series of group sessions are designed to help manage the physical, emotional and practical issues people face after finishing treatment, by offering skills and techniques to support them through the transition. The sessions are led by Maggie’s cancer support specialists and clinical psychologists but also offer people the chance to speak to others in the same situation. Neira, who completed the course, said: “As treatment is very structured, once it is over, one feels a bit on one’s own, which is scary. On the course I met people in the same situation.

“Unlike friends not affected by cancer, who thought now that my treatment is finished I am totally back to being my old self, the people on the course knew as well as I did that that is very far from the truth. It was easy to talk about personal experience and fear, because everybody felt the same.”

Not only do many people find themselves both physically and emotionally changed by cancer, the uncertainty of recurrence is unlike any other illness. Fear and uncertainty can be very difficult to live with, especially if little or no support is offered. As more people live longer with cancer it is important that cancer care is not limited to medicinal treatment but also extends to practical and emotional support for long after treatment has finished.

Laura Lee is chief executive of Maggie’s.