A new support service, Together 4 Cancer Concern, has been launched by the Irish Cancer Society, the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) and Cancer Care West.
The organisations have come together to build a virtual community of care for people who are struggling with the emotional and psychological effects of living with cancer during this very challenging and uncertain time.
The free service will be available from anywhere in Ireland and can be accessed through the Irish Cancer Society’s Nurseline Freephone 1800 200 700.
It includes a panel of experienced cancer counsellors, with connections to community cancer support centres across the country and a team of clinical psychologists from Cancer Care West.
This will ensure that everyone, no matter what their level of distress, can access the right support, at the right time.
It is estimated that more than 170,000 people in Ireland are living with cancer, as well as their families and carers; more than one third of them will require emotional or psychological support.
The National Cancer Control Programme is currently implementing Ireland’s National Action Plan in response to COVID-19 for cancer patients and their families.
The plan includes supporting people’s psychological well-being in this time of uncertainty. Together 4 Cancer Concern recognises and aims to provide psychological support and care for cancer patients and their families.
The development of this service was prompted by queries presented to cancer support groups across the country on what patients, families and carers in need of mental health support should do in this period where they may not have normal access to GPs or A&E.
It was also prompted by a noticeable increase in the level of distress as the COVID-19 emergency as progressed over the past few weeks.
The service, which is confidential, is delivered by qualified cancer care professionals.
The Irish Cancer Society, NCCP and Cancer Care West would like to encourage anybody affected by cancer with concerns at this difficult time to contact these mental health and cancer specialists.
Speaking on behalf of their respective organisations, Louise Mullen, Head of Cancer Survivorship at the NCCP, Dr Helen Greally, Director of Psychology and Support Services at Cancer Care West and Donal Buggy, Director of Services at the Irish Cancer Society agreed that "cancer patients are used to living with uncertainty from the time they are diagnosed".
He said: "The emergence of COVID-19 has added another layer of stress as cancer patients know that they may be in a higher risk group if they develop the virus.
"Added to this are the effects of isolation and cocooning, a completely unnatural way for people to live in 2020.
"With this service there is the opportunity for cancer patients, their families and carers to access support from cancer nurses, their local cancer support centre staff, counsellors or clinical psychologists depending on the issue they are struggling with.
"We are all so pleased to be associated with this joint initiative as we believe it makes the best use of the expertise we have developed in community cancer support over the past 15 years.
"We know there are many concerns and struggles that cancer patients and their families are having at this time of the COVID-19 national emergency.
"Healthcare professionals, community cancer support centres and patient groups have identified the need for professional counselling and psychological support during this time of crisis. Together 4 Cancer Concern is an essential part of supporting this vulnerable group."