St Catherine’s hosts workshops to help people cope with cancer-related fatigue
People living with the little known after-effects of cancer treatment have been seeking support to manage their symptoms through a unique partnership between St Catherine’s Hospice and the North West Fatigue Clinic.
Here, two friends share their experiences of surviving cancer, and how attending the specialist sessions has helped them to cope with the unexpected life changes caused by the illness.
“The operation was the easy bit – I wasn’t prepared for the effects of radiotherapy. You think once you’ve finished treatment for cancer, that’s it, but you have to live with the after-effects.”
Sue Noon was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and has since had a lumpectomy. She returned home from hospital on Christmas Eve and was looking forward to being able to recover from the treatment and get back to normal.
But she didn’t expect the changes she would have to adapt to and deal with, and for a time felt like she was the only one suffering from such side effects.
But since attending workshops at St Catherine’s Hospice, which focus on cancer-related fatigue and how to manage it, she’s found other people to share her concerns with, and has learnt how to cope on her own too.
The STREAM (Stress, Relaxation and Anxiety Management) four-week course, run in partnership with the North West Fatigue Clinic, focuses on coping with stress and anxiety and promoting relaxation in people with cancer, in order to manage and combat cancer-related fatigue.
It aims to empower people to live better with their condition by informing them about triggers and symptoms of fatigue, and equipping them with practical coping strategies such as pacing, breathing techniques, meditation and mindfulness.
Sue, 62, from Leyland, said: “For me it has released a lot of frustration. My outcome was successful, and I thought I should probably be feeling more bright and lively.
“I didn’t realise the radiotherapy would make me so exhausted, but now I understand that it’s normal to feel like this. Everyone was saying what I was feeling – it was a revelation.
“I was told that I would feel tired, but you have no real perception of what they really mean until you go through it. It’s like a wall hits you.”
Not only did Sue learn that her side effects were common through the workshops, she also had the chance to speak to others facing similar problems, and develop techniques and take on advice about how best to handle fatigue.
“One thing I’ve learnt is that I need to break up my day more,” she explained. “Before, if I was having a good day, I would go mad and try to get lots of jobs done, but then it would knock me out for a few days.
“I know now that I need to take my time and have rests even if I don’t feel too tired on certain days. There was a session about relaxation which was brilliant; we practiced breathing techniques and we’ve been given a CD to take home to help us carry on with the things we’ve learnt at the hospice.”
Sue, who works at Leyland Methodist School’s after-school club, heard about the programme through her friend Jeff Whittle, who she knows from attending Leyland Methodist Church.
Jeff underwent his last bout of treatment two years ago for oesophageal cancer, which resulted in his oesophagus being removed.
He too has been surprised by the unexpected fatigue he’s faced in recent years.
“It’s been good to listen to other people,” he said. “I heard about it through a cancer support meeting I attended, and I’m really glad I came.”
Jeff, age 72, a retired project engineer for the fire alarm industry who lives in Leyland, added: “The big thing I’ve got out of the STREAM programme is ‘10 ways to say no’.
“I’m involved in a lot of different things and I volunteer quite a bit, especially with the church, but I’ve realised that sometimes I need to say ‘no’ and make time for myself.
“I would lay in bed for hours unable to sleep, planning things in my head, and I would be knackered. But I’m learning now how to switch off and feel less guilty about not saying ‘yes’ to everything.”
Lesley Pickering, one of the occupational therapists from the North West Fatigue Clinic delivering the programme, explained: “Cancer affects people in many different ways, causing lots of different symptoms, but what can be a common problem for many is the fatigue that the illness and its associated treatments can cause.
“What we mean by fatigue is extreme tiredness which is not improved with rest, and this can cause lots of other issues such as a lack of concentration and difficulty doing even the smallest activities, problems sleeping, feeling more emotional than usual, and difficulty thinking clearly and making decisions.
“What the STREAM project does is equip people with the practical knowledge and skills to help them manage these symptoms themselves at home. Patients are supported and encouraged to continue to practice the techniques taught at the sessions using an audio resource, handouts and action plans.
“The aim is to improve both the physical and psychological symptoms of fatigue, and in turn help people living with cancer enjoy a better quality of life.”
Topics covered during the workshops included sleep hygiene, routines and pacing, and stress and anxiety management.
Clinical psychologist Dave Riley, also from the clinic, said: “Cancer treatment is pretty good these days but the consequences in terms of fatigue haven’t been focussed on by the health service.
“We’re providing support which isn’t readily available, offering fairly straight-forward strategies which are easy to learn and simple to adopt at home, which will have a significant impact on people’s lives.”
He added: “The first programme has gone very well and there has been a very clear sense of camaraderie within the group, because everyone is in the same boat.
“There has been a lot of chat and bonding amongst participants, as well as us being here to offer advice, and they’ve enjoyed contributing to the sessions and sharing their experiences and views, which has been great.”
Another four-week course will start on 23rd September and will be held in the upstairs function rooms at The Mill café and community hub in the grounds of St Catherine’s Park, Lostock Hall. It is free to attend, and sessions last one hour.
To book, call 01772 695277 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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