Dorset cancer support groups playing a vital role in helping sufferers

Shine enjoying their Great Escape to Bournemouth

Shine enjoying their Great Escape to Bournemouth - Credit: Archant

Around 1.8 million people in England are living with a diagnosis of cancer, and though survival rates are improving cancer support groups play a vital role in helping sufferers and their families especially in Dorset

Staff at The Grove hotel

Staff at The Grove hotel - Credit: Archant

“It was three years before I met another person with my type of cancer,” says Tricia Moate from Poole. “I felt horrendously alone. Even my GP had never had a patient with sarcoma - cancer of the connective tissue. I’d worked as a nurse but that didn’t protect me from the shock of the diagnosis.”

That was back in 2004 and thankfully Tricia received excellent care at a specialist centre in the Royal Marsden Hospital. Since then she’s been instrumental in setting up a sarcoma support group in Dorset with funding and assistance from Macmillan Cancer Care.

When diagnosed with cancer everyone takes the news different. Some cope by putting their head down and pulling up the drawbridge. Others want to hear about how others have dealt with cancer from diagnosis onwards. It also has to be said that there’s a lot of knowledge and expertise to be had when people with a mission pool resources and experience as Dr Jo Millar explains. As co-founder of The Living Tree Cancer Support in Bridport, which first met in 2012, Jo shares her thoughts at the time of her own cancer diagnosis. “Looking back, I can still remember the sense of isolation and detachment, as if I were a distant observer watching myself go through the motions of endless appointments. I also initially had a passive acceptance of putting myself through whatever treatment was recommended.”

Jo struggled with a confusing mass of online information and felt there was a distinct lack of easily accessible advice on diet, exercise and therapies that could help. “It wasn’t until after the initial shock and fear had subsided that I began to research sources of support. It was then a question of deciphering which methods were more evidence based, and trying to reconcile my traditional scientific GP training with an openness to consider other complimentary approaches.”

In East Dorset Emma Willis launched Shine Cancer Support as a non-traditional support group for young adults. Emma, who lives in Poole with her partner Allan, recently left her career in risk management to focus on the future of Shine. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 when she was 29 years old and found that it was very difficult to meet others her age with the illness. After more than a year of feeling isolated, she met Justine in an online forum and together they decided to start a different type of group. Shine Cancer Support is the only registered charity in the UK exclusively focused on helping men and women in their 20s, 30s and 40s with any type of cancer.

Emma and her group recently hosted The Great Escape, a residential break at The Grove in Bournemouth. Owned and operated by Macmillan Caring Locally, The Grove is a hotel for cancer patients and those with life threatening illnesses, Brenden Howard is the manager. “As far as we know, we are the only hotel in the country offering this type of accommodation,” he says. “However, we’re definitely not a waiting for God hotel!”

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The Grove offers 28 en-suite bedrooms, each with a fridge for cancer medicines. Showers are spacious and some have a full body dryer system. Family suites provide the perfect place for mum, dad and their child to stay if required. The rooms can also be configured with doubles, singles and if required, a hospital bed. They also have Registered Nurses on call; they are able to assist with any on-going procedures and sort out issues such supplying oxygen, mobility scooters and the like, thus allowing spouses or family members to relax and enjoy the break too and so replenish their own strength. In addition the hotel organises weekly trips for guests including visits to Poole Quay and Wimborne Market as well as afternoon tea at Highcliffe. There’s also musical entertainment in the evenings.

The Grove is certainly a safe haven but, as Brenden explains, its coastal location has the potential for providing happy memories that guests will treasure forever. “Some of our visitors just need a break, but for others it could be the last holiday they’ll have together.”

The value of support given to cancer patients cannot be over estimated. And sometimes it’s fun! Being worried about your lipstick may seem odd in the grand scheme of chemo and cancer treatment but as Living Tree members discovered it can really give you a confidence boost.

Mary Auger from Wareham was the lead beautician at a recent workshop hosted in Bridport by Living Tree. She was helped by Nancy Bowles (Burton Bradstock), Claire Bowring (Portland) and Sue Robinson (Ryall). The two-hour masterclass was set up through the charity Look Good Feel Better (LGFB), a charity set up 20 years ago specifically to help women and teenagers combat the visible side-effects of their cancer treatment. Last year they supported over 12,000 women and teenagers through their workshops and self-help materials.

Speaking as someone who has had breast cancer, Mary is well placed to understand how vulnerable some of the women feel when they first come to a session. “As soon as you go through the door you can relax. Everyone understands. Apart from the expertise of the beauticians it’s also about sharing tips, such as keeping make-up brushes clean if you have a compromised immune system.”

There are also many positive psychological and therapeutic benefits of wearing make-up as Lynne Pile, from Bridport revealed after attending the LGFB masterclass. Lynne says that she felt she’d never recovered from the way her eyebrows grew back in patches after chemo. “At the LGFB session the beautician plucked them, reshaping and tapering them to give natural line. The class helped me get back that sense of wanting to make an effort.”

The emotional side of cancer can be complex. With this in mind, and having had breast cancer, Dr Jo Lee from Southbourne launched Live Your Life After Cancer (LYLAC). Jo teamed up with fellow cancer survivor and life coach Isabel van der Ven. Their personal experiences taught them that what seemed to be missing is that extra non-medical mile, specifically how to cope after treatment has ended.

“I describe cancer as a gift in ugly wrapping paper,” says Jo. “So, Isabel and I asked ourselves questions like: ‘What’s next? What’s important now? How do I move forward from here? What are my priorities now?’ Based on our cancer journeys we devised a life coaching programme that supports people in finding and creating balance in all areas of their lives so they live fully - with health and happiness.”

Sue Rorstad MBE from Charmouth took a LYLAC course. “When my treatment finished I really valued working with LYLAC, particularly on the evaluations. To my surprise, I’m happier now then either before or during my illness.” Sue now has her own mission – to be there to help people with cancer face the fear and to show there is peace and positivity even when the storm is right overhead. “We’re blessed that life goes on. I truly believe that many of us would say we’re changed forever – and for the better.”

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