The power of peer support – my Cancer Coach experience – by Mark Guymer CEO

Cancer Support UK's CEO Mark GuymerOne of the first actions I undertook upon joining Cancer Support UK was to attend one of the Cancer Coach service’s six-week long peer support courses. I must confess that I was very nervous in the first group session, in case my presence as an observer affected the balance of the meeting.

However, the volunteer Cancer Coach quickly put me at ease and made me feel very welcome. I was given the opportunity to introduce myself and to explain why it was so important that I experience first-hand the delivery of one of our key services.

It quickly became apparent that the whole group was in a safe pair of hands with an expert facilitator leading the session. Cancer Support UK takes great care to recruit highly qualified and capable professionals and we are extremely grateful to these coaches for giving up their time to volunteer for us.

In the first session, the coach did a great job explaining how the sessions would work. Everyone gets the opportunity to participate in a way that allows them to feel comfortable.

The group’s members introduced themselves and talked a little about their decision to attend the Cancer Coach peer support group. A number of common themes soon emerged and, as people talked about their own challenges, many others nodded in agreement.

“I feel guilty that I’ve completed my treatment – everyone assumes I feel overjoyed, but I don’t.”

“I don’t feel like myself anymore.”

“I’m scared and constantly worry that the cancer may come back.”

“I can’t talk to friends and family. I’ve put them through so much already.”

“No one really understands what I’ve been through and how I feel.”

‘I’m sad about the physical impact cancer has had on me.”

‘I’m worried about my career.”

‘I’m re-evaluating what’s important to me, but I’m confused about how to proceed.”

“During treatment, I was in a well organised system, but now it’s over, I have been left to process the whole experience alone and feel completely unsupported.”

For me, this first meeting was an incredibly emotional experience. It was evident that one of the amazing things about the Cancer Coach service is that people were able to instantly connect with others who understood how they were feeling.
Everybody in the group had a unique individual story, but they all appreciated the experience that had brought them together.

As the six week course progressed, this bond that they all immediately felt with each other, strengthened increasingly.

Another impressive element about the effectiveness of Cancer Coach is the clear structure and focus in each session.

It is quite apparent that this process had been developed by experts and individuals who have experienced cancer treatment themselves.

Sessions covered topics such as understanding your feelings, creating time to grieve, different types of thinking, how to challenge negative thoughts, techniques to manage worry, tools to help you plan for the future and much more.

Feedback from the group was overwhelmingly positive. Attendees talked openly about what they learnt and how they now use this information to help them.

It was humbling to be welcomed to observe this group on their own personal journeys, but I left the final meeting feeling optimistic about the future. The connections they made with each other will endure and they all now know that it’s ok to feel the way they do. Particularly as it’s a feeling shared with so many others. That in itself is a powerful outcome.

They also now know that they are not alone. They have each other and all the knowledge and experience gained from the Cancer Coach sessions to support them on their future journeys.

I left feeling even more emotional than on that first session, but this time with an overwhelming feeling of pride in the service provided by Cancer Support UK.

I am grateful to those who had the vision to create this incredible service and to those who have contributed to its ongoing development. I’d also like to say a huge thank you to the volunteer coaches who give up their time to facilitate and deliver the group sessions.

Finally, I have nothing but respect for the individuals who had the courage to tackle their own personal challenges by signing up for Cancer Coach. I admire how they have each embraced it in their own way to get the most out of the experience.

I joined Cancer Support UK knowing that there was a need to expand the emotional support required to those who have been treated for cancer. My Cancer Coach experience has left me even more determined to grow and expand these services so that anyone who can benefit from this type of support is able to do so.


Cancer Coach support groups are available free to anyone over the age of 18 who has completed their physical cancer treatment. The groups support those who are experiencing low mood, anxiety and worry, and who don’t know how to move forward with their lives. The course takes participants through a series of weekly facilitated group sessions, run for a six-week period over the telephone or online video. The sessions cover a series of coping strategies, techniques and exercises, which can help individuals on their recovery journey. The course is free and completely confidential.

The emphasis is on providing practical and emotional support in a safe space and connecting with others who have been through cancer.

You can apply to join Cancer Coach online or, if you have any questions, please email or call: 020 3983 7616.