Continuing care, long after the cancer has gone
A Galway charity is providing the range of services needed to support patients with cancer
Cancer Care West in Galway with its light-filled open plan drop-in centre. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.
Kathleen Treacy, a regular user of the centre. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Cancer Care West in Galway's Westside. Photograph: Joe O'Shaughnessy.
Cancer is no longer a death sentence and as a significantly greater number of people live with the disease, the needs of the population have changed.
For many patients, issues around living and coping with the medium to long-term effects of cancer and its treatment do not arise for two to four years post-treatment.
Dr Helen Greally, director of psychology and support services at Cancer Care West, points out that traditionally, psychological support was seen as most crucial at the time of diagnosis and this led to psycho-oncology services being based in hospitals where cancer treatments were delivered.
“Psycho-oncology is the treatment of psychological distress caused by cancer in the patient, their relatives or carers.
“Cancer Care West is developing a model of community psycho-oncology that aims to marry traditional support services, which can be found in many smaller centres with the provision of professional psycho-oncology services found only in bigger hospitals,” she explains.
The Cancer Care West Support Centre, located a five-minute walk from Galway University Hospital, opened its doors in May 2009.
Since then, the centre has been visited more than 25,000 times by over 4,000 people – patients and their families – affected by cancer.
The centre offers psychological support through clinical and counselling psychologists, as well as oncology nursing, benefits advice and a range of support groups and classes including yoga, writing, art and t’ai chi – all under the one roof and all free of charge.
Two years post-treatment is the most common time for referral to a psycho-oncology service and the most common reason is depression.
However, people at all stages of their illness use the services at Cancer Care West from the newly diagnosed to one woman who is 22 years post-treatment.
Walking into the light-filled, open plan drop-in centre in Galway is like going into a bright, welcoming home – a total contrast to the clinical hospital setting.
Visitors can sit at the long wooden table in the kitchen/dining area and have a cup of tea and a chat or relax in an armchair in the lending library area and choose from the large selection of cancer-related reading material.
It is a quiet peaceful space with an indoor garden and beautiful artwork on the walls.
“Coming in here is a big step for people, but we would love to have more people using our services,” Greally says.
“We are open to anybody. Whether they are one year or 20 years post-treatment or are a relative or carer who has been affected by cancer, it makes no difference.
“One of the myths around cancer is that when the treatment is over, you are better.
“Thankfully, a lot of people cope well with cancer and make a good recovery, but we help people to live with the uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis and the impact this has on their lives.”
The most difficult part of living with cancer, Greally adds, is the fear of recurrence.
For many people, it does not recur, she says, but the only thing that would ease this fear is an absolute guarantee from the medics that it will not recur which nobody can ever give.