Cancer survival rates are increasing thanks to breakthroughs in treatments across the world, but a lack of emotional and psychological support in our health system is still leaving thousands of cancer survivors at a loose end. There is a way to tackle this challenge that won’t put more pressure on an already stretched healthcare budget.
Advances in cancer research are coming in leaps and bounds and there is a lot to celebrate. In the last month it has been announced that CAR-T Therapy has been approved in this country, a treatment which could save thousands of young children’s lives, and Proton Beam Therapy, a form of radiotherapy that destroys cancer cells with pinpoint accuracy, has just become available on the NHS. By 2030 four million of us will be living with cancer  and the survival time of those diagnosed with cancer has gone from one year in the 1970s to up to 10 years in 2011.
In October 2017 Macmillan Cancer Support launched a report on cancer survivors’ concerns long after their treatment has come to an end. Even though there is much to be thankful for when getting the ‘all clear’ from your doctor, many of our clients report the ongoing concerns they face once they are ‘off the conveyor belt’. Unmet needs of people with cancer have been highlighted as psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, occupational, social and existential . With an increasing population of people with cancer with unmet needs, evidence that patients want to be more informed and involved with their own care, and a challenging healthcare funding environment, there is a clear need for cancer survivorship services to enable people to self-manage their condition, leading to better health and care outcomes.
Penny Brohn UK is the leading UK charity specialising in helping people to live well with cancer, particularly focusing on self-management education, supporting and enabling people to find their own route by combining lifestyle and conventional approaches, through the experience of cancer. In 2010 we launched our flagship Living Well course which teaches those living with cancer, and their supporters, about the Bristol Whole Life Approach. This approach shows that there is more to health than simply what is going on in our bodies and that to be resilient and to function as well as we can, we need to pay more attention to our mental, emotional and spiritual health as well as our physical health. The approach explores ideas like diet, emotions, relationships and managing stress through courses, one-to-one therapies, and group sessions which helps people make small but sustainable changes to nurture themselves at the deepest level.
In a 2016 service evaluation  209 clients who had attended the Living Well course said it had helped improve their (emotional) wellbeing. 90% were using more self-help techniques and 67% said it had improved their relationships.
We followed up with the original clients 12 months later, asking them if the course had helped them self-manage their health more effectively. The majority (90%) said yes and reported that the course had made them more knowledgeable about how to self-manage, had given them the skills to make lifestyle changes and had made them more confident to make those changes.
There is clear evidence that cancer affects more than our physical health and this will remain the same no matter what advances are made in treatment. There is more that can be done to make sure that everyone affected by cancer has access to the best whole person support available. At Penny Brohn UK we see each person as a unique individual and we understand that someone with cancer needs more than medicine to cope with all the ways that cancer impacts their life, during treatment and beyond.