Dealing with the emotional turmoil that begins at the first mention of the C word

A diagnosis of cancer is a life-changing moment and a new programme is being launched to enable patients come to terms with it

Survive and Thrive Fashion Show. Photograph: Shane O’Neill / Fennell Photography

Survive and Thrive Fashion Show. Photograph: Shane O’Neill / Fennell Photography


From the moment they are diagnosed right through to treatment and surgery, the physical health of cancer patients is paramount; with the correct dosage of medication and all the required procedures documented and adhered to throughout their often lengthy ordeal.

But while eradicating cancer cells and getting patients back on their feet is obviously the number-one concern, the emotional turmoil that will have begun from the first mention of the C word will carry on long after the patient has been discharged from hospital.

With this in mind, the Marie Keating Foundation has set up the Survive and Thrive programme.

Piloted two years ago, it was evaluated by experts and deemed a necessary aspect of recovery.

And now with more than 280,000 people diagnosed with the disease each year in Ireland, the programme has been launched in earnest with the first patients due to be seen early this month.

Helen Forristal is the director of nursing services at the Marie Keating Foundation and it is her role to assess the suitability of candidates, evaluate each person’s needs and support them through this holistic approach to caring for cancer patients.

“Cancer survivors can face many different problems, depending on what type of cancer and treatment they have had,” she says. “Side effects can range from general issues such as chronic fatigue and stress to more specific problems such as changes in sexual function and altered body image caused by different treatments and surgery.

“The Survive and Thrive programme is aimed at those who have been diagnosed with any type of cancer, have completed treatment regimens and are now in a position to make a transition from surviving the treatment to thriving in their new world.”


The new normal

Coming to terms with a new normal can be exhausting for survivors and their families, as the emotional impact of cancer is huge. The Marie Keating Foundation is encouraging anyone who feels they would benefit from the programme to come forward and enrol themselves.


“A cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event and we know that any change in your life causes stress and anxiety,” says Forristal.

“Everyone reacts to illness in their own individual ways but common feelings include numbness, anger, confusion, hopelessness and shock.

“Some may question their existence or their religious beliefs while fear is another common emotion.”


Negative impact

“Others may feel depressed or isolated and may also suffer from fatigue, which can have a profoundly negative impact on their ability to function and on their quality of life.


“Surviving cancer can be very difficult for people and most do need help, support and knowledge. This programme helps to disseminate knowledge which, in turn, empowers people to make significant changes in their lives.”

Topics covered in the six-week Survive and Thrive programme include:

Feelings after treatment

Fatigue and other symptoms


Feelings and change

Managing stress

Benefits of exercise

The Survive and Thrive programme is based on programmes by the Wellness Community (US) and the course will be facilitated for the Marie Keating Foundation by Ursula Courtney, Health and Cancer Consulting. It runs for six weeks consecutively on Tuesday evenings from 7-9pm at the Aishling Hotel, Dublin 1.


For more information on cancer, see The Irish Times Health Centre