Centres of hope for cancer patients


Can an initiative by the Irish Cancer Society change the outlook for patients with the disease?

CANCER HAS been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. A recent warning by the World Cancer Research Fund that new cases of the disease in Ireland could rocket 72 per cent by 2030, was reinforced when an analysis of life-cover payments found that almost half of all deaths in the country last year were from cancer.

With one of the worst records in Europe for early diagnosis and cure rates, and with our health system under increasing pressure, can an initiative from the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) help reduce the number of cases, and improve the outcomes? And, importantly, can it provide a service that changes patients’ outlook about the disease?

This year, the lives of more than 30,000 people – men, women and children, old and young, rich and poor – will be changed forever as they face the fear and shock of a cancer diagnosis.

When you add family and friends to the estimated 120,000 cancer patients currently living in Ireland, it’s clear that this disease affects a huge proportion of society. And yet, often the journey through cancer can be lonely and confusing. Last year, the ICS began an initiative to help those in need of support deal with their diagnosis.

The ICS also hopes to promote two other of the charity’s key goals – preventing cancer and raising the likelihood of it being detected early.

“Easy access to trusted and expert information is crucial for cancer patients and their families,” says John McCormack, chief executive of ICS.

“For many years, we’ve provided information to the Irish public through our cancer information service, but now we can do so at the place of diagnosis and treatment – in the hospitals themselves.”

McCormack says that early detection and treatment of cancer is crucial to improving chances of cure and survival, and highlighting early signs and symptoms will help many discover their cancer earlier. Lifestyle changes such as being physically active, having a healthy diet, avoiding smoking and reducing alcohol can also prevent certain cancers.

“The next challenge for the Irish Cancer Society is to get the message out there to the Irish public. Daffodil Centres are allowing us to do this in a very unique and effective way,” says McCormack.

Daffodil Centres are standalone information and support hubs strategically located within hospitals (including the six designated national cancer centres). Crucially, they are run by specialist cancer nurses and trained volunteers, many of whom have survived cancer themselves.

Seven of the planned 13 centres are already in place in both voluntary and private hospitals around the State: University Hospital Galway, Dublin’s Beaumont, Mater Misericordiae, St James’s, Adelaide and Meath Hospitals (incorporating the National Children’s Hospital), and the Hermitage Medical clinic, and Bon Secours Hospital in Cork. The remaining are due to be completed by the end of this year.

Sheila Hyde is in her 40s and recovering from breast cancer. Living in Cork, she attended the Bons Secours Hospital, and it was as she was receiving treatment there that she stopped by the Daffodil Centre.

“I’d had my mastectomy, and my chemo and even my hair was growing back. Everyone said I was looking great, but inside I was feeling far from great. I felt I was only 60 per cent better and I wanted that extra 40 per cent. It was beginning to annoy me.”

She approached the Daffodil Centre and spoke at length to the staff there. They helped her with several issues concerning her cancer, including how to talk to her two young children about her illness and hair loss. But the most important help they gave her was putting her in contact with someone who had gone through exactly the same treatment as her.

“It was absolutely fantastic. She understood what I was going through. She made me realise my feelings were perfectly normal. It was so reassuring and comforting. We talked for 40 minutes and it changed everything.”

So far, nearly 10,000 people have visited the Daffodil Centres, and it is hoped 50,000 people can be reached annually through this unique service in Ireland, helping not only to support and empower patients and their families, but to drive forward crucial lifestyle and symptom messages that could help reduce the poor outcomes for cancer in Ireland.

“Our Daffodil Centres enable people affected by cancer to share their concerns, understand their illness and find their way to the services and support they need,” says Aileen McHale, a specialist cancer nurse who runs the Daffodil Centre in St James’s Hospital.

“This means they can manage their condition with greater confidence and feel equipped to make good decisions about their treatment and care.

“Uncertainty can be one of the hardest things to deal with, not just for the person with cancer but also for their partner, family and friends. They often don’t have anyone to turn to for support or to ask questions.

“Daffodil Centres are open to anyone affected by cancer, no referral or appointment is necessary. Those who visit us can ask questions and talk through issues and concerns with a specialist cancer information nurse and specially trained volunteers.

“We take the time to listen and provide information, advice and support tailored to their needs in confidence.”

Investing €3.6 million over three years, the Daffodil Centres are being funded entirely by monies raised from a dedicated fundraising committee of the Irish Cancer Society, which has secured significant donations from supporters who helped get the centres established.

Recently, the ICS launched a campaign to actively raise for the remaining funds needed to complete the investment. As an extension of its existing information services, how exactly will they make a difference?

McCormack explains: “We have been involved providing high-quality information for many years, and are now immensely proud to be the flag bearers of a free, public resource that adds value to the existing clinical services within hospitals.

“For people facing into the bleak world of a cancer diagnosis, having easy access to a source of trusted and expert information can really support them on their cancer journey.”

Offering advice on everything from symptoms and accessing palliative care to where to buy wigs, the Daffodil Centres hope to set worldwide standards in dedicated, hospital-based cancer information and guidance, strategically positioned across the State to maximise exposure to those who need it most, where and when they need it most.

The focus is on support, guidance and early detection, information on various types of cancer, treatments and side effects, and details of local and national cancer support services.

Of the 10,000 people who have used the services to date, more than a quarter were inquiring about cancer prevention and how to make lifestyle changes, while 21 per cent had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and 19 per cent had a friend or relative recently diagnosed.

“We have no doubt these centres are saving lives. Not only will more people have access to vital information on cancer prevention, they will have direct access to specialist advice to help bring about early detection, or crucially, to deal with a diagnosis they or their family have received,” says McCormack.

With cancer affecting one in three people in Ireland during their lifetime, high-profile initiatives such as this and the society’s annual Daffodil Day are crucial.

Daffodil Day takes place on Friday, March 23rd and is supported by Dell. For more information or to get involved, see cancer.ieor tel: 1850-606060