One in ten cancer patients feel isolated

Published Monday, 11 February 2013
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Almost one in ten newly diagnosed cancer patients in Northern Ireland lack support from family and friends during their treatment and recovery, according to new research.

One in ten cancer patients feel isolated
Around 700 cancer patients each year are left feeling isolated. (© Getty)

Of 8,000, newly diagnosed patients, an estimated 700 patients each year are left feeling isolated, according to Macmillan Cancer Support.

Around half of those patients (5%)- an estimated 400 people each year- receive no help whatsoever and face cancer completely alone.

UK-wide, estimates that almost one in four of 325,000 newly diagnosed patients - an estimated 70,000 patients each year - lack support from family and friends with around 20,000 of those facing cancer completely alone.

Family members and friends living too far away, having other commitments or patients just having no-one to turn to are the most common reasons patients lack support.

Macmillan's General Manager in Northern Ireland, Heather Monteverde, said that it was encouraging that patients in the region are significantly less likely to feel isolated than the UK average.

"What we know is that many people don't want to burden the people they love and those that are close to them, so isolation isn't always about people who don't have family or friends," she explained.

"Quite often it will be in a close family where they don't want to add to the worries of someone who's caring (for them). That in itself can be very isolating."

"There is a lot of help out there for cancer patients from charities like Macmillan whether it's face to face, over the phone or online, but often people don't know about it," she added.

"We want all cancer patients to know there is support available and I'd urge anyone in need of help to get in touch with Macmillan.

"It's also vitally important that medical professionals understand the impact isolation can have on people with cancer and direct them to sources of support including Macmillan."

I would also ask those who know someone going through cancer to take the time to ask them how they are feeling and if they need some help. That could make a big difference to how they feel.

Heather Monteverde, Macmillan NI

One woman who said cancer has left her feeling isolated is Belfast woman Ann McManus.

The 59-year-old underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat cervical cancer after being diagnosed in November 2011 said.

"I feel isolated and often just really lonely," she said.

"I never go out unless I'm going to the hospital or to the doctors because the cancer treatment has left me feeling really drained and I also feel the cold much more than before.

"I have family who are great and they visit me whenever they can but they have to go to work and have other responsibilities so they can hardly spend all day at my beck and call.

"I used to be the same, I was always rushing off somewhere but now it's just me and the television most of the time."

Another woman who was also left feeling isolated is Portadown woman Philomena Gallagher, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2011 after being called for a mammogram.

"I was working full time and enjoying voluntary work before I found out I had cancer so my life was always really busy. Having to give all that up means I spend a lot more time on my own now," the 61-year-old said.

"All of my family were wonderful and have been there for me but because I love them I want to protect them, so I don't talk to them about cancer."

"My own mum died from breast cancer so I don't want my son or daughter worrying about me and I don't want to bring up bad memories for my siblings," she added.

"Thankfully the hospital gave me a number for Macmillan and I spoke to a really lovely man there who was wonderful. If Macmillan hadn't been there I would have been very isolated."

The report also found that one in six of UK patients had lost touch with family or friends because they had diagnosed with cancer, while around 80% said that the financial impact of the diagnosis meant they couldn't afford to see them as much.

One in eight (12%) of people living with cancer surveyed haven't had a single visit from friends or family in over six months.

More than half of patients surveyed said they hadn't eaten properly due to lack of support at home, and over a quarter said they were not able to wash themselves- over half were not able to do household chores.

© UTV News
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