Feature: 'I felt so lost' until Macmillan helped

PUBLISHED: 08:02 25 September 2015 | UPDATED: 09:25 25 September 2015

MacMillan's World's Biggest Coffee Morning event draws widespread support from across North Somerset - including at Locking Castle.

MacMillan's World's Biggest Coffee Morning event draws widespread support from across North Somerset - including at Locking Castle.

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MACMILLAN is a charity famous for its coffee mornings - but there's much more to it than a slice of cake. Reporter BRIANA MILLETT found out more about its support groups, volunteers and the people it helps…

Macmillan Weston buddies Susannah Read and Helle Mugridge share details of the service during an information day at the Winter Gardens,Macmillan Weston buddies Susannah Read and Helle Mugridge share details of the service during an information day at the Winter Gardens,

MACMILLAN Cancer Support may be a national charity but its fundraising and work in Weston and across North Somerset has touched thousands of people.

Its staff and volunteers work tirelessly to help patients battling with cancer at one of the most frightening times in their lives, many of whom would be forced to face their fears alone were it not for MacMillan’s support.

One of its biggest success stories is its buddies scheme, an initiative which was rolled out in Weston 18 months ago.

The scheme pairs volunteers with people recovering from cancer, to provide a shoulder to cry on or someone to help out with the vacuuming.

The facts about cancer in North Somerset:

* 1,306 people living in North Somerset are diagnosed with cancer each year – that’s 25 people every week.

* In 2010 there were 8,300 people living with cancer in the district – but that number is expected to be as many as 17,500 by 2030.

* Approximately 584 people from North Somerset die every year of cancer.

* Macmillan spent more than £231,000 on services in North Somerset in 2014 – but only £200,000 was raised in the area.

* £33,273 was given to 100 people in North Somerset in 2014.

* So far this year £15,000 in grants has been given to 48 people living in the district.

Piers Cardiff is the volunteering and services manager for the South West and is responsible for bringing the buddy scheme to Weston.

He said: “One of the things we know about cancer is about one in four people go through it alone – without friends or family around them.

“Once a person is referred to us we will match them with one of our volunteers and we offer them practical help, but what we also find is they also get low-level emotional support.

“Taking the time to sit and chat with someone, to have a good natter, is important. Sometimes our volunteers are the only person that people see that week.

Margaret and Karen from the Weston buddies scheme.Margaret and Karen from the Weston buddies scheme.

“We know people are living for longer as treatments improve, but then they are having to manage the side effects of the treatment, whether that’s fatigue or a lack in mobility.”

The scheme has 10 volunteers who work in central Weston, but it is hoping to expand across the whole district.

Benefitting from the buddy scheme

Sue Robertson, who works as a support worker funded by Macmillan at Weston General Hospital.Sue Robertson, who works as a support worker funded by Macmillan at Weston General Hospital.

Sitting in the living room of Margaret Oders’ living room in Weston, it is hard to believe her cancer treatment stopped only three months ago.

Her bright and bubble persona reveal nothing of the ordeal she faced, and she is clear that MacMillan’s support was vital.

Margaret, aged 74, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January and underwent a hysterectomy and chemotherapy.

She said: “I had no visible symptoms but when I started treatment it took it out of me.”

Her son John, who lives in London, stayed with her throughout her chemotherapy and her two daughters, Elaine, of Bath, and Jane, who lives in Weston, also helped out.

But Margaret, who had always lived a busy lifestyle having worked for a brewery in Leeds before moving to Weston, was left feeling ‘lost’ when her treatment ended.

She said: “I felt as though I was living in a bubble, because it was just appointment after appointment, I was like a robot every day just going to this and going to that.

“I had always been so well and then one day I was not. I just felt so lost.”

But, before her treatment had even ended Margaret was assigned a buddy through Macmillan’s scheme, and has since made a true friend in Karen Elliott, aged 52, also from Weston.

Margaret said: “We are so lucky, we’ve got on. For me, it’s support and it’s about having someone to speak to. Karen is someone I feel comfortable with.”

Karen has been volunteering for the scheme since it began, and said: “I wanted to do something voluntarily and I think everyone has been touched by cancer at some point.

“I saw it on Facebook and thought it sounded interesting, it was just setting up then but it’s gone on from there – I like the flexibility of it and you get to meet such interesting people.

“With a lot of people I go to appointments with them, and it was a lot of appointments with Margaret at the start.”

Karen helps Margaret with her shopping, took her to get her hair cut for the first time since it had grown back after chemotherapy, and provides a friendly ear.

Karen said: “I’ve encouraged her to get her independence back, too. She didn’t want to go shopping on her own, but now she’s driving a little bit and I encouraged her to get her car back on the road.

“Me and Margaret have just clicked.”

Support at Weston General Hospital

Macmillan is helping Weston General Hospital care for cancer patients by funding a role for a charity support worker to be based at the hospital.

Sue Robertson began her role in March this year and has been busy improving the recovery process for patients ever since.

She said: “Macmillan identified that patients had unmet needs, they weren’t getting what they wanted out of their follow-up, so they needed to look at more ways of supporting patients.

“My role is to help people to maintain as normal life as possible, by helping them access services by signposting them to what is available.”

She points them in the directions of groups like Energise – an exercise session based at Hutton Moor Leisure Centre – or organisations which offer counselling, practical support and more.

Sue is now an obvious first point of contact for people who may have just finished treatment, which takes pressure off nurses within the hospital.

She also works on organising special events for patients where there are question and answer sessions with consultants and stalls showcasing what is on offer in the district.

Sue said: “We also complete a treatment summary for each patient, which will give a complete summary of any surgeries, any possible side effects of the medication they are on and the possibility of the drugs which they may need to come off.

“It’s an exciting new project for the trust and it’s going to greatly improve the follow-up for patients’ recoveries.”

You can support Macmillan by hosting a coffee morning, find out how by clicking here.

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