Feature: Providing empathy to cancer sufferers
Illness-battling Claire sets up support group offering information and help to patients.
When the mum-of-two was diagnosed with life-limiting secondary breast cancer in 2015, she felt completely alone.
“I’m lucky to have a wonderful family and terrific friends, but I was devastated by my diagnosis and it made me feel totally alone,” says Claire, who lives with her family in Hunters Bar, in Sheffield.
“Although my cancer is being treated with hormone therapy, it’s horrible knowing your life is limited in your 40s and it felt as though nobody else in the world was going through what I was going through, it was a really tough time.
“I’d gone through breast cancer three years earlier. The cancer coming back was my worst fear come true.”
Claire is one of a growing group of people living with cancer that is incurable but treatable.
These people can live for years with their cancer being controlled by a range of treatments such as hormone therapy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy in a way that would not have been possible 40 years ago.
And now Claire has decided to set up Cancer Treat Club, specifically to bring together men and women in the city who are living with a terminal or life-limiting cancer.
“I’ve been to traditional support groups, where you wait your turn and then talk about yourself and the problems you’re having, but I really wanted to create something more fun,” explains Claire, who celebrated her 50th birthday last year.
“I was desperate for contact with someone my own age who knew exactly how my particular situation felt. The important thing, for me, was bringing together people who were in the same position – people who really understand what everyone else in the group is going through because they’re going through the same thing – but then make it an enjoyable experience.
“Time is particularly precious now and I think it’s important to spend as much as possible of that time having fun.”
After putting out initial feelers, Claire was awarded a grant from Weston Park Hospital Charity and, along with help from Macmillan, has begun arranging a series of meetings for the club in 2017.
“The plan is to meet up on the first Friday of every month,” she says.
“The first one, this Friday, is at Carluccio’s, on Ecclesall Road, at 11am. We’re going to have some lunch and drinks, then head down to Sharrow Vale to browse the shops and do a little shopping, and then head to Made By Jonty at 2pm. People are welcome to join us for any part, or all, of the day.
“We’ve had a couple of informal initial meetings, to gauge interest, and I’ve met some lovely people already. One woman at the last get-together just before Christmas, said she couldn’t believe what a difference it made to be surrounded by people that just ‘get it,’ because they’re in the same boat. Not that we talk about our cancer all the time, but of course it comes up.”
And thanks to the Weston Park grant, along with subsidies from a number of local businesses, Claire plans to offer all the activities at the club to its members completely free.
“People in this position have generally given up work, and money can be tight, so activities, food, drink, we plan to cover all the costs so people can just come and relax.
“Next month we’re heading to John Lewis for a pamper and Prosecco party, and in March we’re off to Harrogate for the day on the train to visit Betty’s Tea Rooms.”
For Claire, the most important thing now is spreading the message and letting people know the Cancer Treat Club is available to them.
“I’ve met some wonderful people already through this group and together we’re just enjoying living life to the full and finding the silver lining where we can – please join us.”
Email [email protected] or visit the club’s Facebook page for details
With the number of people living with cancer across Sheffield set to increase, Macmillan Cancer Support is keen to help people like Claire to have the best possible quality of life.
Claire was supported to take part in Macmillan Active Everyday, a physical activity programme that helps to make it easier for people affected by cancer in Sheffield to be physically active. There is a growing body of evidence that now shows physical activity not only helps manage the often devastating consequences of cancer treatment – such as fatigue, depression and heart damage – but also helps to reduce the risk of the disease worsening, recurring or causing death in people living with cancer. Active Everyday looks at both the physical and emotional benefits of physical activity, trainers listen to the person affected by cancer and tailor activity to suit them and their individual situation.
“When I was first diagnosed with my secondary breast cancer I was told I couldn’t do any high impact exercise,” says Claire.
“But then I heard about Active Everyday and went to see them, I thought ‘hallelujah’, finally I was talking about what I could do, rather than what I couldn’t. I was supported to take part in physical activity that suited me by a trainer who knew and understood all about my cancer.”
Email: [email protected] for details.