12 April 2006

Families of cancer patients need support

Daily Ireland

New study calls for more help for patients’ carers


Cancer patients and their families aren’t getting enough support from the health service and their relationships are suffering as a result, a new report has revealed.
The Worried Sick survey, carried out by Macmillan Cancer Support, shows that those with cancer are prone to anxiety and stress, while their carers also display signs of depression due to the pressure of looking after a loved one.
More than four in ten (45 per cent) cancer patients admit that the emotional aspects of the disease are more difficult to cope with, while a further six in ten (58 per cent) claim that their emotional needs are not looked after as much as their physical health.
Likewise, almost a quarter of carers (24 per cent) feel abandoned by the healthcare system and more than a third of patients and their families (37 per cent) find the cancer support system confusing.
“This groundbreaking report paints a vivid picture of the overwhelming impact a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment has on the lives of the people diagnosed, and their family and friends,” says Heather Monteverde, Macmillan Cancer Support’s general manager for the North.
“It exposes shocking gaps in the support offered to cancer patients and their loved ones.
“It’s vital that people know what Macmillan Cancer Support does, so they can access the emotional, practical and financial support we offer.
“But we can’t do it alone; we call on the health minister, the DHSSPS and the NHS to create and fund services that meet the unmet needs identified by this report.”
Peter McMorrow knows more than most what its like to play catch-up with the health system when it comes to cancer.
The 21-year-old has lost both his parents to the disease over the last 18 months. His mother was diagnosed with a brain tumour in September 2004 and died in December the same year, while his father succumbed to bowel cancer in February this year, having been diagnosed just four months previously.
“Everything has happened so quickly, it’s still quite difficult to take in,” explains Peter.
“My mum went downhill very quickly after she found out she was ill and then, when dad was diagnosed, it was almost like a bad joke, we just couldn’t believe it was happening.”
As his dad’s primary carer, Peter, who is reading technology and design at Jordanstown University, was forced to give up his studies to help look after his father.
Although his dad only made it back to the family home in west Belfast for three weeks before he passed away, Peter had to deal with the practicalities of being a carer on a daily basis.
“We had visits from the district nurse and Macmillan Cancer Support were brilliant but, at the end of the day, it was us who had to find out what we needed to do, where we had to go to get equipment and how to use it,” he says.
“It was hard for me and my two brothers (aged 31 and 19), who were also living in the house at the time.
“We found that there was no one organisation to go to where we could find out what we needed; instead, we had to go through lots of different people and phone numbers at a time that was stressful enough, without any added challenges.”
Peter is now planning to return to university in September to complete his final year but, in the meantime, he is throwing his weight behind the Worried Sick report and its findings.
“I definitely agree with the survey’s findings on carers and the lack of support facilities out there for them,” he says.
“Help is definitely around but, unfortunately, you have to track it down, instead of having it come to you. And it isn’t just during or after a diagnosis that carers and families need support, there’s the practicalities afterwards that have to be dealt with too which can be distressing.
“We need a more co-ordinated approach and some way of directing patients and their families towards the help that they need.”

Macmillan Cancer Support has an information pack for the public, which is available by calling 0800 500 800.
A new DVD about the charity is viewable on their relaunched website at www.macmillan.org.uk.

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