People who have been through treatment for cancer will understand:
For months your life is taken up by hospital appointments, meetings with consultants, tests and medication. Maybe there has been surgery, followed by recuperation, chemotherapy and more recovery, follow up appointments and then suddenly, the longed-for day when there is no more intrusion or demands on your time, no more doctors and your life is your own once more.
Only sometimes it isn’t that easy.
Where do you go from here?
How do you go about taking the first steps of getting your life back to “normal”?
Because today’s normal is different to what normal life was before cancer.
For many people who have been through a cancer diagnosis and treatment, the future can feel uncertain.
Many have lost their self confidence, their sense of identity and feel as though they’ve suddenly been cast adrift without any instruction manual.
That’s why Maggie’s Centres throughout the UK came up with a ‘Where Now?’ course – a seven week series of sessions covering different aspects of getting your life back on track after treatment.
The course is designed to help people develop skills and techniques to support them through the transition period and beyond, looking at health and wellbeing and tackling mental challenges such as concerns about recurrence, fatigue and continuing communication with clincians.
It looks at exercise, nutrition, emotional wellbeing, partnering with your medical team, managing post treatment challenges and keeping up momentum.
Tom Bennett (53), Julie Russell (52), Jena Traill (28) and Laura Gray (47) have akk taken part in the course at our Maggie’s Centre and know just how beneficial it can be.
At the very young age of 28 Jena has been through cancer twice – being diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the age of 25 which spread into the lymph nodes of her chest two years later.
She said: “The first time I was diagnosed I spent the whole time looking after other people, my partner, my friends and my family and I didn’t think about me at all.
“I just got on with it and hid all my fears and emotions.
“The second time I came to Maggie’s and got talking to people. I made a promise to myself that I would look after me and everyone else could look after themselves.
“I was young and didn’t know anyone else with cancer, so coming here and going through this course was a chance to speak to people who really understood how I felt and I said things here that I had never said to anyone before.
“They just nodded and agreed with lots of the things that I had thought were strange for me to think and I felt normal. They made me feel that it was okay for me to feel like that.”
Tom said: “My consultant recommended the course to me and I came along feeling very sceptical because I didn’t think it would do me any good.
“The main thing I gained was not feeling so alone and knowing that there are other people in the same situation who feel exactly the same as you do.
“It makes you feel better in yourself and you feel able to take the next steps forward.”
A lot of frienships have grown from the courses and Tom and Julie along with another former member from the course went on to take part in a walking group and have kept up their regular exercise sessions, even going on holiday together recently.
Laura said that she had buried her emotions to enable her to get through her treatment.
“When it was all over my emotions caught up with me. I was on auto-pilot at the time. You don’t think about things at the time but afterwards it can all catch up with you and this course helps you to think things through and rebuild your confidence to start getting back to normal.
“What I have discovered is that the new normal after cancer can be a better normal than before.
“It puts everything into perspective and things that may have worried your before are no longer important.
“Now it is about taking the positives from every situation and making the most of what you have.”
And Laura has since gone on to take part in Maggie’s Tai Chi and nutrition courses as she found the sessions so beneficial.
Ali Clarke, Maggie’s Fife cancer support specialist who facilitates the course said: “We have a loosely structured programme which covers different topics each week, but the sessions are largely guided by the members themselves and what they want to talk about.
“At the beginning they can feel lost after months of being looked after by a medical team, and talking about it normalises this.
“As the weeks go on people get to know each other better and they communicate much more freely and build up their self confidence.”
The ‘Where Now’ course involves input from various people and groups. In Fife while Ali facilitates it, psychologist Ian Wallace leads the group in discussions about the emotional aspects of treatment and Pam Dunn, Maggie’s nutritionist, demonstrates aspects of healthy eating and gives guidance on how members can improve their diet, with practical examples of healthy meals and snacks in a tasting session. Gentle exercise sessions and advice on building up strength and fitness are led by members of Move More Fife, part of Fife Leisure Trust and Macmillan Cancer Care. And for the medical partnership part, clinicians from NHS Fife are there to help. The seven sessions are not necessarily held on consecutive weeks – there may be longer gaps between some. Each group will have between 10 and 12 members. Where Now courses are run throughout the year.