Monday, 5 December 2011
Huntly Area Cancer Support Centre
On Thursday afternoons I volunteer at the Huntly Area Cancer Support Centre. Set close to Huntly Square, it's a place where those touched by that dreadful disease can find support, advice, friendship and healing.
Cancer is a scary word, so doctors don’t like to speak it when delivering their diagnosis. Families don’t talk about it. Children are most often shut out. I remember, because 18 years ago my wife was visited by cancer. We were bewildered, confused by the range of options, decisions to make, whom to tell and when. Nothing was simple or certain --- except for the reality of the scourge. Luckily we had a supportive network of family and friends. I leaned heavily on whoever was within earshot. Help appeared from unexpected sources. There was a box of oranges that turned up on the doorstep. People who offered to pick up the kids, or keep them for a few days. Or stay with them while I was away on a business trip. Warm soup was often delivered to our kitchen. A religious minister came by regularly and gave my wife a healing. But not everyone is as fortunate as I.
Which is why, when I first heard of the Huntly Centre, I asked if I could help man the front desk. Having traveled the road from cancer diagnosis through various stages of treatment and death, I know something about the way. Also that a cancer diagnosis does not mean that death is inevitable. Most important when confronted by the unknown is to live each moment to the full, not to shut down or succumb to fear or despondency. All medical studies have shown that those who maintain a positive spirit tend to survive. Ones attitude often affects the efficacy of the treatment. Which is where the Cancer Centre comes in.
I found an extraordinary group of people dedicated to helping cancer victims their families and carers maintain their quality of life. Carers are often equally battered by the disease. Depleted. After sharing our stories I felt that we’d known each other for much longer than a few hours. All volunteers have a strong empathic sense. Some worked as nurses or as alternative healers. Others like myself have a history with cancer.
Clients walk in unnanounced, some referred by friends or doctors; others see the store sign and open the door to see what's inside. Often they just need someone who will listen to them; help them deal with concerns or fears, in a non-clinical setting. Sometimes they only need information or a referral to a MacMillan nurse. For clients struggling with the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation, the centre offers Reiki, Reflexology, and other complementary therapies.
On my first day at the Centre a woman came in. Distressed, and in obvious pain from cancer treatment, she asked for a Reiki treatment. Reiki is an ancient, non-invasive treatment where the healer’s hands move above the body, but do not touch it. The treatment relaxes the client, eases pain and helps restore their energy levels. It's effective not only for patients but for carers or family members who need an energy boost. Therapeutic Touch, a similar healing art, originated among nurses in the United States. It is practiced by thousands of nurses in many hospitals.
Pam took the woman to the therapy room. An hour later when the client emerged, she had a more peaceful look about her. Not healed, but with more energy and in less pain. Perhaps not as overwhelmed by the disease. The treatment must be doing her some some good, because she keeps coming back for more.