Improving the Cancer Journey for thousands of Fife families

Launch event...we spoke to Janice Preston (left), Councillor David Graham (second left), Bruce Hamilton (third right) and  Valerie Ireland (second right).
Launch event...we spoke to Janice Preston (left), Councillor David Graham (second left), Bruce Hamilton (third right) and Valerie Ireland (second right).

There are currently 13,500 people in Fife who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

And while their clinical needs are met by doctors and nurses in GP surgeries and hospitals, it’s often harder to access emotional, practical and financial support.

In reality, the help they need is there but people don’t know where to turn.

And it’s for that reason that Macmillan Cancer Support has invested £1.1 million into Improving the Cancer Journey in Fife.

Macmillan has joined forces with Fife Health and Social Care Partnership, Fife Council, NHS Fife and other third sector organisations to provide seamless, accessible and personal support for people affected by cancer.

The aim is to make sure cancer patients across the Kingdom can access all the help they need – by making just one phone call.

Every newly diagnosed cancer patient in Fife will be sent a letter offering a meeting with a dedicated one-to-one support worker.

The worker will help the patient access a wide range of support, from benefits advice and emotional support to help at home or other practical needs.

Anyone currently living with cancer can also access the service by simply calling the team to arrange an appointment.

Macmillan launched the pilot project in June last year, with the service getting fully underway in September.

But it was officially launched on Monday at the Carnegie Conference Centre in Dunfermline.

Janice Preston, Macmillan’s head of services in Scotland, said: “We hope this service will transform cancer support in Fife.

“Cancer has a huge impact on every aspect of people’s lives but many patients tell us they don’t know where to turn for help.

“This new service should make sure everyone in Fife with cancer has someone to call on for help, no matter what they need.

“It’s thanks to continued support from people locally, who fundraise and donate so generously, that we are able to fund this vital service.”

Janice knows for certain that Improving the Cancer Journey works.

For it has been running in Glasgow for five years and has also been a big success in Dundee in the last two years.

She added: “We decided to launch it in Fife next because we have a lot of good partners here.

“Fife also has a higher than average incidence of all main cancers. There are 13,500 people living with cancer here and we expect that to grow to more than 24,000 by 2030.

“We want to make sure that every patient who is diagnosed, and their family, can easily access the support they need.”

Link workers will be based at Victoria Hospital one day a week, as well as hosting meetings in community centres across Fife. Home visits will also be arranged for those with mobility issues.

At the official launch, attended by the service’s many local partners and health professionals, three speakers told their own, very personal cancer journeys.

Valerie Ireland (49), from Methil, has already accessed the service.

She was diagnosed with a rare form of uterus cancer when she had fybroids removed in 2015.

Valerie’s mum Anne Symington (75) had died a year earlier so she relied solely on her husband Walter (56) for support.

But her GP at Airlie Medical Practice invited Valerie to attend its cancer support group and it opened up a whole new support system to Valerie.

She said: “I had 25 radiotherapy treatments over a five-week period at the end of 2015 and went into remission in 2016.

“I was at a really low point in my life but the support group gave me a chance to speak to other people in the same position. From that, I was able to find out about so many other services too.

“As a result, I joined Macmillan’s Move More group at Levenmouth Leisure Centre last year.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it and it has given me a whole new perspective on life.”

As for Improving the Cancer Journey, Valerie, who worked for eight years heading up the bakery at Jenners in Edinburgh, added: “Being diagnosed with cancer is a huge shock, so accessing different services can be difficult.

“I’m sure it will make a huge difference to people at their lowest ebb.”

Councillor David Graham (36), Fife Council’s spokesman for health and social care, is painfully aware of the difficulties people face after a cancer diagnosis.

David’s wife Sharon was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and sadly died in February 2014, aged just 44.

With a full-time job and Sharon’s two teenage sons, Aiden and Rhys, (now 22 and 20 respectively) to look after, David struggled.

He said: “There was so much paperwork to deal with at a time when it was the last thing you felt like doing.

“Sharon was a singer; she worked at the weekends so dealt with all our bills and her name was on them all.

“I didn’t even know who to contact about returning her mobility car.

“There were so many little things to deal with.

“I was lucky; I had amazing family support.

“But not everyone has that which is why I’m so proud Fife is now offering this groundbreaking service.”

Bruce Hamilton (66), from Kirkcaldy, set up his own bereavement group after his wife Helen died from ovarian cancer on August 11, 2016 – her 65th birthday.

He is now a member of Fife’s Improving the Cancer Journey co-production service users group and sits on the board too.

Explaining why, he said: “Before I had counselling, I felt like I was falling off a cliff edge so I set up the bereavement group.

“It became clear from the experiences people shared that, while clinical care was excellent, there were missing pieces of the jigsaw for patients, carers and families.

“Services are out there but they usually work in isolation. Bringing them all together will make life so much easier for people trying to access them.

“And if I can help anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation to mine, I’m delighted to be a part of that.”

Improving the Cancer Journey is open to everyone aged 16 and over living with cancer in Fife.

To find out more about the service, call 01592 578076 or email Improving.CancerJourney@fife.gov.uk.