By Toby Porter
A cancer support team has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to be there for cancer patients, their carers and loved ones, as rising Covid-19 cases hit hospitals.
The Macmillan Centre at St George’s Hospital in Tooting is determined to continue supporting people with cancer, despite the many challenges posed by the pandemic.
The Macmillan centre closed its doors on March 23 last year.
But manager Estelle Le Galliot and the team carried on helping sufferers with
– a YouTube channel of daily wellbeing sessions,
– video appointments
– webinars for advice on everything from headscarf tying to coping with fatigue
– a phone ‘buddy’ service manned by volunteers
– chemotherapy ‘Comfort Kits’ filled with helpful items and treats for patients
St George’s patient Janet, 53, said: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, and needed a mastectomy, lymph node removal, months of chemotherapy, followed by radiotherapy.
“And now, I have years of endocrine therapy ahead of me to prevent my cancer recurring.
In early 2020, I was just hoping to return to some sort of normality, after years of treatment and turmoil, when the effects of the coronavirus pandemic reached us.
“It was invaluable that Estelle and her team were able to react so quickly when that first lockdown was announced.
They realised that patients had been reliant on activities to support them through cancer, and that isolation and shielding would be really tough.
“Macmillan at St George’s stepped up, reaching out to as many patients as they could.
“And the speed with which Estelle got the YouTube channel going, featuring so many familiar faces leading our classes, was truly impressive and a lifeline.
“Us patients have known for a long time just how amazing Estelle is. I have been so grateful for the support.”
Estelle said: “The last 12 months have been the most challenging time in my career in cancer care.
“I had to step up and be more creative; constantly finding new ways to make sure our patients and carers were not deprived of our crucial support.
“The centre closed for three months between March and June 2020 with only one member of staff remaining on-site to keep supporting patients and carers via telephone or email.
“To ensure we could still reach as many people as possible, we transformed all our usual workshops into ‘webinars’, so patients could continue to access vital information whilst shielding safely at home.
“We also started a video call service for self-isolating services users who couldn’t access the centre, but who needed advice.
“Our support line volunteers were on standby at home throughout the pandemic, offering an empathic ear to patients wanting to talk to someone who had themselves experienced cancer.
“We were constantly coming up with fresh ideas!
“We also had to make sure the centre would be safe once it was possible to reopen again, so we made adaptations.
“I’m determined that no matter what happens next, the centre doors will always remain open, so patients will never have to be cut-off from our valuable support.
“It has also been a humbling privilege to support my cancer services colleagues who have gone above and beyond supporting their patients, carers and colleagues throughout the trust.
“It has been of time of solidarity when many of us cancer centre managers in hospitals, and communities in south-west London and beyond, joined forces by regularly sharing news and good practice with a common goal that cancer patients will not feel isolated or miss out on the best our services can offer.
“The process of re-opening the centre was down to sheer determination – we had to ensure it was clinically safe, without compromising the ethos of being a warm and welcoming space. During the closure, the emotions were like waves of up and downs, but thanks to a great camaraderie we kept going steadfast. To open the doors again was a wonderful feeling of achievement and a positive sign that we will go forward no matter what.”
The Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Centre at St George’s has now reopened for support – either in-person, via phone, video call and email, or through the St George’s website: stgeorges.nhs.uk/service/cancer-services/macmillan-cancer-support
Anyone affected by cancer in South West London can contact the St George’s Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Centre team on 0208 725 2677 or email: [email protected]; 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday.
People can also access Macmillan’s support 24/7 via their website: www.macmillan.org.uk or call the Macmillan Support Line 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm on: 0808 808 00 00
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.