At Maggie’s Fife there’s space to talk about being a cancer carer

The Maggie's Carers Group at the Fife centre in Kirkcaldy (Pic by Fife Photo Agency)
The Maggie's Carers Group at the Fife centre in Kirkcaldy (Pic by Fife Photo Agency)

The awful news of a cancer diagnosis can have far reaching effects, and not just for the patient.

The stress, fear and uncertainty which a cancer patient will suffer can also be felt by those who are looking after them.

Maggie’s Fife is the only cancer care unit in the country which offers help and support to cancer carers and not only at its weekly drop in sessions, the Fife centre at Victoria Hospital also runs a six-week course which aims to offer some relief to those who are looking after their loved ones.

Ali Clarke, cancer support specialist, said the course is a product of Maggie’s looking at the whole picture of a cancer diagnosis.

“The course offers a couple of hours a week in a confidential space and it’s bringing together a group of people who are caring for someone with cancer.

“It can be a spouse partner, son, daughter or even a friend - it doesn’t matter. Anyone is welcome.

“It’s talking with a group of like-minded people who understand where each other is at.”

Harry McCaffer from Kirkcaldy said the course has been “amazing”

He added: “It’s helped me no end.

“Being a carer is affecting everyone here, especially if you are caring for your partner, and it’s very difficult to speak out loud about it to anyone else, but in this place you can.

“I can speak to everyone in this room about my situation. It gets it off my chest.

“These sessions have been tremendous. I feel totally at peace in this place.”

Janis Foster from Dunfermline said she found the weekly sessions helpful.

“I’ve found things out on the course that will definitely help me,” she said.

“It helps you to sort out things in your head, but the biggest thing has been the sharing with the other people who absolutely get how you feel.

“And it’s the staff too. Being able to pop in and ask them questions at any time – you find afterwards that it’s a reassurance.

“Overall it’s been a very worthwhile course. It does help you a lot.”

John Brown from St Monans is another member of the group who attended all six sessions.

He called it a “great release”.

“I was amazed that I could come in here with four or five people who I didn’t know, and then just suddenly start sharing things.”

All three admit to being sceptical beforehand and needing some persuasion.

John said: “I stood outside for quite a while because I really didn’t know if I was going to get any answers and I just needed to speak to somebody .

“But I eventually came in and I spoke to Ali. You immediately get the feeling you can speak to someone. It’s helped me a great amount.”

Janis said: “You just need to take that first step and come through the door.

“There’s a peace about the place and there are people who can reassure you about things.

“You might think you are managing but it’s only when you come, and especially on this course, that you realise the benefits of off loading some of your concerns.”

Ali said that help for the carers doesn’t end when the course does.

“The group are still welcome to come along to our weekly support meetings which run along the same format.”

She is hopeful that more cancer carers will visit the centre.

“We don’t advertise the course as all money raised by Maggie’s goes into running the centre, so if there is anyone reading this who is in the same situation and are thinking that there is no help out there for them, I hope that they will come along and get some help.

“Everybody who is a cancer carer needs support.

“Everyone is affected.”

The course is offered by Maggie’s Fife at four different times throughout the course of the year.

Each of the six weeks looks at a different topic and aims to give tips and help to those looking after someone living with cancer.

Ali said: “The first week of the course we talk about feelings and everyone just gets to know each other because there has to be an element of trust with each other.

“Whatever is discussed in the room , stays in the room.

“The following week we look at styles of coping and how people are coping and what way they are doing it.

“For the third week we have our nutrition expert Pam Dunn who comes along and holds a workshop about eating foods for wellbeing.

“Cooking is one of the practical sides of caring. A lot of the time the person that’s going through the treatment has no appetite or chemotherapy is affecting their tastebuds so it’s a practical session as well as being really nice.

“It’s great that week because everybody that’s usually on the course is the one at home doing the cooking so we end up putting on a nice lunch for everybody that’s here.

“The fourth week is taken by Iain Wallace our Counselling Psychologist looking at the emotional impact on caring on all of the family.

“The following week looks at the change in relationships - you can be a couple one minute and then cancer comes along and then one of you is looking after that person.

“There’s hospital appointments as well, so everything is completely different.

“The sixth and final week is just a chance to catch up on everything we’ve discussed - or the things we haven’t been discussing.

“And although this is a six week course it wouldn’t be right of us to say, well you’ve all got to know each other over this period , now the support stops - that’s not the case.

“The group is more than welcome to come to our weekly carers’ support group on a Wednesday - as is anyone else.”