Vita Blog: Getting support: counselling, support groups and mindfulness

Posted: September 1, 2014 in Vita Blog
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Here’s my latest Vita Blog Post: http://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/news/blog/getting-support-counselling-support-groups-mindfulness

I love picking fruit and today I spent a couple of hours picking blackberries. It requires patience and perseverance but it’s incredibly rewarding seeing the fruits of your labour bubbling away on the stove.

One of the reasons I love picking fruit is because it’s one of the only times I switch off. This is something I strive for when I meditate but never quite achieve. When I’m picking blackberries, all I’m focused on is reaching for the next berry. It’s very therapeutic and for a few blissful hours I forget I’ve got this vile disease. Making jam

Switching off is difficult at the best of times, but when you’re going through treatment, worries can be all consuming. Not only are you dealing with the rollercoaster of treatment, but there are often financial, emotional and practical issues to contend with. Anxieties about paying the bills, body image and fears of recurrence are just a few of the things a cancer patient has to face, along with the physical and psychological impact of treatment.

The constant stress of treatment can take its toll, and it’s no surprise that depression and anxiety are common among cancer patients. Mental health has been in the news recently with research showing that between 6 and 13% of cancer patients have clinical depression, compared with 2% of the general population.

Like many cancer patients, I struggled to get any psychological support when I was first diagnosed. A cancer diagnosis wasn’t considered serious enough to warrant an urgent referral and I was told I’d have a 6–12 month wait for counselling. It was only through accessing the support of my local Maggie’s centre that I got the psychological help I needed.

It seems like we have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to looking after the mental health of cancer patients. However, there are many resources you can access to help you cope with the ups and downs of treatment.

Counselling

Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed about. It can be really hard for loved ones to give you the emotional support you need while you’re going through treatment. It’s also really difficult to be completely honest with them. Counselling provides a neutral space for you to talk openly about how you are feeling. It allows you to put aside the brave face that you put on for family and friends.

I’ve had contrasting experiences while being treated under different authorities and every health authority varies in the availability of psychological support for cancer patients. Some hospitals have dedicated psycho-oncology units and your breast care nurse, consultant or GP can refer you. Charities such as Maggie’s and The Haven also offer counselling.

Alternatively you can chat to someone on the Breast Cancer Care or Macmillan helplines. Breast Cancer Care also has a brilliant telephone support service called Someone like me, which matches you with someone who’s been on a similar journey.

Find a support group

There’s no better support than from those in the same boat as you. No one else can comprehend what you’re going through unless they’ve been there themselves. There are breast cancer support groups all over the country. You should be able to find one through your breast care nurse, your local hospital or through Maggie’s, Macmillan or The Haven.

Breast Cancer Care offers practical courses for people at different stages of treatment as well as monthly support groups for those living with secondary breast cancer. For women under 45, their Younger Women Together meet-ups are a great way to make friends and create new support networks.

There are also online support groups such as the Younger Breast Cancer Network (UK) on Facebook and the online Forum at Breast Cancer Care, where you can get support from other women going through treatment.

Meditation and mindfulness

5253I started meditation classes a few months before my primary breast cancer diagnosis in 2012 and this really helped me cope with the trauma of a cancer diagnosis. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to meditate and many places now offer courses in mindful meditation or mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR).

We spend most of our time in autopilot mode, thinking about the past or the future and paying little attention to what is going on in the present. The busyness of modern life and the technologies we surround ourselves with encourage us to be even less mindful. Mindfulness encourages you to be in the here and now using techniques such as meditation, yoga and focusing on breathing. It enables you to be more engaged with your feelings and emotions so that you are better able to manage them.

And it really works. Meditation can reduce anxiety and stress, as well as helping to control problems like pain and high blood pressure.

You don’t have to sit and meditate to be mindful. Mindfulness can be incorporated into your everyday life. Everyday activities such as baking a cake, going for a walk or even reading a book can all be mindful.

There are many avenues to explore if you’re interested in learning some mindful meditation techniques. The Be Mindful website has a list of courses all over the UK as well as online courses. Your local hospital or cancer support centre might run courses. If you just want to dip your toe in the water there are some great podcasts on the Mental Health Foundation website and at the University of Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

Picking blackberries and meditation aren’t for everyone and you might find other things work better for you. When I’m feeling well I like to keep myself active. Walking and yoga are the things that help me feel stronger both physically and mentally. On bad days I find getting lost in a book or watching a film are really great distraction techniques. I hope you find something that works for you.

You can read more from Katherine on her own blog killerkath.wordpress.com and also on Twitter @killerkath

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Comments
  1. mary Jennings says:

    I am so pleased to hear you are doing so well and finding ways to cope with the diagnosis.The Secondary Cancer Support is great.I was at the Christie today for chemo and am back again on Friday for my latest scan results. Will look out for you . Stay strong. xxx

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