Counselling service gets praise as it moves into third year

Wendy Thomas, Karen Alyward, David and Jo Fitz
Wendy Thomas, Karen Alyward, David and Jo Fitz

PEOPLE living with cancer have praised a support service in Eastbourne as it celebrates its second anniversary.

The Macmillan Cancer Support counselling service provides emotional support for people who have been diagnosed with cancer and other serious illnesses and their families.

The service is headed up by Karen Aylward and supported by qualified volunteer counsellors and supporters.

Based at Eastbourne District General Hospital, people are referred to Karen and her team by consultants, doctors, nursing staff and there are also self-referrals.

In the last two years the counsellors have seen more than 200 people, including in-patients and out-patients diagnosed with cancer along with their partners, children and other family members.

David Fitzpatrick and his family have all seen Karen and the team for counselling since he was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Although the tumour is benign, its position within David’s brain triggered off seizures and epileptic fits and he has just recently finished chemotherapy in a bid to shrink it.

“Once you’ve been told you have a tumour, you have to just live with it,” said David, who was a high-flying executive before he collapsed at work and was diagnosed with the tumour.

“You don’t become frightened of dying. Instead you become frightened of living because once you’ve had that diagnosis, your life as you know it is never going to be the same again.

“They tell you to get on with your life but it’s not that easy. It’s like being left in the centre of Los Angeles with a map of London.”

David, who lives with his wife Jo and family in Lower Willingdon, admits he was in a dark place when he started his counselling. “I was on the edge of a wave that was just going down and I didn’t want to go on any more,” he said.

“I started seeing Karen and having somebody to talk to, you just don’t feel so lonely. Getting it all out in the open helps you work through things and although I don’t have the whole map now, I am working on it.

“The children have spoken to counsellors and it helped them to talk to somebody that wasn’t involved, that wasn’t family, where they could talk about their fears and how they felt.”

Wendy Thomas has secondary breast cancer and also says she has benefited from the counselling.

She was referred to Karen by the senior breast nurse consultant after being diagnosed with the secondary cancer two years ago.

She said, “I initially had breast cancer, fought it and never thought it would come back. But then two years ago it returned and I have had a whole new set of issues to deal with.

“It has made me look at all aspects of my life. My husband had counselling and that took a lot of pressure off me. It’s great to have someone listen to you, you can say anything. I find it a very good experience.

“At the moment it’s helping me work through how to cope with future appointments. I was and still am so anxious about bad news I might be given. The counselling has given me some tools and equipment to rely upon when I feel things are creeping up on me so I don’t have to fall apart. My main aim is to sit across the table from the consultant and not fall apart.”

Karen, a qualified counsellor and psychotherapist, said the service is there for people living with cancer in whatever form, whether it be themselves or someone close to them who has cancer.

“Someone living with cancer often wants to talk about everything but their cancer, because having the disease makes people take stock of their lives and relationships,” said Karen.

“While they are being treated, they are preoccupied with holding themselves together physically and they feel well supported through that by specialist cancer nurses and the healthcare teams.

“Afterwards, people appear to plummet, and the enormity of what they have been through hits them. That’s when they have the greatest need for support.

“We give them a chance to express and explore their thoughts and feelings and identify and understand problems, which enables them to cope.”

To contact the Macmillan Family Support service contact Karen on 414918.