Practical solutions for cancer patients facing emotional and economic challenges – by Mark Guymer

Cancer patients face mounting anxiety with the economic uncertainty

Cancer patients face mounting anxiety with the economic uncertainty

The last thing anyone recovering from cancer needs is to be worrying about the cost of living.

Yet it is hard to avoid thinking about the challenges ahead, whether they are financial, physical or emotional.

As a national cancer charity focused on providing emotional and practical support, Cancer Support UK knows that what is already a very difficult time will potentially get even harder for many.

The media is already full of headlines highlighting unsettling statistics about the struggles faced by cancer patients.

A OnePoll survey carried out by support charity Maggie’s, polled 500 people currently living with cancer. Their findings showed that well over a quarter of people (29%) with a cancer diagnosis are more worried about the cost of living crisis than they are about their cancer.

Over three quarters (77%) feel that the crisis is affecting their chances of successful treatment for cancer.

Both Macmillan Cancer Support and Young Lives vs Cancer report having seen dramatic increases in the number of people asking for emergency grants. Research suggests tens of thousands of 18 to 39-year-olds with cancer are struggling to pay basic living costs.

When someone is undergoing cancer treatment it is not uncommon to hear that there are already considerable financial concerns. This may be around continuing to earn income, extra costs of travel or the physical demands of treatment requiring extra expense such as additional heating.

At a time when costs continue to rise rapidly, Cancer Support UK is scaling up its Cancer Coach service to provide the emotional support that is needed by so many once they complete their cancer treatment.

Cancer patients frequently face considerable financial concerns

Cancer patients frequently face considerable financial concerns. Photo credit: Bruce Mars

An estimated three million people in the UK have had a diagnosis of cancer and evidence shows that many of these cancer survivors have unmet needs. In addition, cancer survivors are more likely to be unemployed than people who have not had cancer. This can have an effect not only on financial independence, but also on self-esteem, identity and a sense of purpose in life. All these factors contribute to a person’s quality of life.

We believe it’s more important than ever to support people living beyond cancer who have unmet emotional needs, giving them the confidence to take control of their recovery. The financial demands of the ‘cost of living crisis’ are only going to increase the strain on this impacted group.

Cancer Coach offers peer support for post treatment cancer patients

Cancer Coach offers peer support for post treatment cancer patients. Photo credit: Brooke Cagle

It is during our Cancer Coach group sessions that we receive the personal feedback, which provides the insight beyond just statistics. One of the common themes discussed by participants are concerns about their financial security.

In remote areas, individuals may need to travel significant distances to make appointments or to see specialist support services. The Cancer Coach service is available free of charge to everyone. It operates remotely, via online or telephone groups, which removes the added worry of fast increasing transportation costs, which can become a barrier to reaching out for support.

We often hear from those who have been through cancer treatment, how they are expected to simply bounce back to normality once their treatment is complete.

Cancer is an extremely debilitating disease and huge physical effort is required to get through cancer treatment. But what needs to be recognised more fully, is that the period after completing primary treatment can be extremely challenging.

Patients frequently report a lack of confidence, feelings of isolation or abandonment, high levels of anxiety and a fear of recurrence of their cancer. This emotional turmoil often only manifests itself when treatment has finished.

The challenges of returning to work is a common theme we hear raised in the Cancer Coach groups. From a cancer patient’s perspective, we know that while many employers are sympathetic and helpful, they often can’t engage with that person in a way that demonstrates a true understanding of this life impacting experience.

To meet this need, we have used our extensive knowledge to develop a range of services to help organisations have better conversations with colleagues and customers affected by a cancer diagnosis.

Our Workplace Cancer Support Ambassadors training scheme is already supporting organisations of all sizes and we will continue to increase capacity for training throughout 2023 to meet the growing need.

In addition, our innovative short e-learning modules offer industry specific, scenario-based learning, which can be completed by employees in their own time. These flexible courses are designed for people in customer-facing roles, as well as within the workplace.

The cost of living crisis’ is affecting so many people in different ways. Within the charity sector it will create huge demands as income is threatened and costs continue to rise steeply.

Despite the challenges facing us, Cancer Support UK will continue to innovate and develop new services to meet changing needs and to significantly extend our support at a time of considerable hardship for so many facing a cancer diagnosis.

This isn’t going to be easy, but if we believe in a future where nobody should suffer emotional distress when diagnosed with cancer, then it is our duty to respond to these challenges and to let people know we are there for them in their time of need.