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We’re making a difference and being a friend

Giving a couple of hours a week to have a cuppa and a chat or tackling a  little ironing can make the world of difference to a person with a cancer diagnosis. Carrie Harris, Direct Volunteering Services Manager, explains how support services like Carmarthenshire Support Buddies can help people affected by cancer who are isolated, lonely and perhaps in need of a helping hand. 

Macmillan Cancer Support recognises that people affected by cancer need support in many different ways. Our research shows that one in four people newly diagnosed with cancer in the UK will lack support from family or friends during their treatment and recovery — that represents over 4,000 newly diagnosed people each year in Wales.

Over half of those who lack this support say it’s because their family and friends are too busy to help or live too far away. And a third of those people have no one there for them.

The feelings of isolation and loneliness that so many people experience make cancer even harder. And people often feel powerless and as if control has been taken away from them, but they don’t have to go through it alone.

We, Macmillan, have a whole range of support services to help people feel less alone – and feel more like themselves. Carmarthenshire Support Buddies is one of those support services set up to be there for people who are isolated, lonely and perhaps need a helping hand.

volunteer group november 2013 2a
Volunteer group – (Carrie Harris centre)

Since 2010, the number of people living with cancer in the UK has grown by almost half a million people to 2.5 million. By 2030 this will increase to 4 million people, many of whom will have complex needs

The increase in people living with cancer is largely due to improvements in survival and detection, and a growing and ageing population, with the number of over-65s living with cancer increasing by almost a quarter (23%) in just five years.

Macmillan has recognised and acknowledged these changes and the necessity to provide support in many different ways for those who need it. So, we set about looking into different ways we can reach people so they don’t have to face cancer alone.

In 2012, Macmillan Wales carried out a consultation event in Carmarthenshire to find out what the priority support needs were for local people who either had a cancer diagnosis or were caring for someone, as well as what services were already available and where there were any gaps.

My role is to scope, develop, set up and manage, practical and emotional support services like Carmarthenshire Buddies. This service took its first request for support in March 2014 and has gone from strength to strength ever since.

We have recruited and trained 37 volunteers with 23 currently active buddies, provided support to over 50 people with nearly 400 support interactions either face-to-face or over the telephone. The support our volunteers have provided includes befriending and companionship, going out on social trips, ironing, washing up, picking up shopping, light housework and gardening, ad hoc transport and signposting to other helpful services.

The feedback from service users and those that refer them to the service is so positive – the volunteers are extremely valued, as one service user said about her buddy “she is a tonic!”

One of our volunteers from Llanelli recently told me “I get so much from volunteering, you can make such a difference to someone’s life but you’ll also be surprised how much you’ll get out of it too. Volunteers might think they’re not appreciated but trust me we are, big time, doing what we do”

Another of our buddies – a lead volunteer, who helps to coordinate the service as well as provide support, told me about why she got involved:

“Cancer is an issue that is very close to my heart. My parents, aunties and uncles have all been affected. My mother had a Macmillan nurse and I remember she called her ‘her angel’. A Macmillan nurse is a very special, very different type of person. So it’s nice to do something in return for Macmillan.”

Not everyone is alone but sometimes their families might be far away or unable to visit every day. With our service, all you need to do is volunteer a couple of hours a week, have a cuppa and a chat or perhaps do a tiny bit of ironing. It can feel like a mountain to someone affected by cancer, but you’re there making a difference and being a friend – it’s not magic and is so rewarding!”

Our volunteers are really there for people at a time when they need someone – a helping hand or a listening ear or both! I’m immensely proud and honoured to be involved with the service and to work with the amazing volunteers that give their time and commitment to others so they don’t face cancer alone.

You can find out more about volunteering for Macmillan on our website.

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