Living with cancer

Helen Greally, the Director of Psychology and Support Services with Cancer Care West. “There isn’t any place in the country where you have the services of a centre like this one,” she says. Photos: Iain McDonald.
Helen Greally, the Director of Psychology and Support Services with Cancer Care West. “There isn’t any place in the country where you have the services of a centre like this one,” she says. Photos: Iain McDonald.

Lifestyle – Cancer Care West provides a welcoming space and homely atmosphere for cancer patients both during and after their treatment. Last year, the service supported 1,400 people who were taught not alone how to live with their diagnosis but, in most cases, how to live well with it. Judy Murphy details the positive impact of this vital service.

“We want people to take responsibility for their own lives and support them to do that,” says Helen Greally, the Director of Psychology and Support Services with Cancer Care West.

The organisation that provides free and confidential counselling and support to people with cancer and their carers, has been based in the Westside of Galway city since 2009.

It’s housed in a commercial unit where the impersonal exterior gives no indication of the homely atmosphere within. The bright, airy drop-in space has a kitchen area, complete with dresser, and a long communal table, ideal for meals and discussions. Off that room, secluded corners and cubbyholes cater for more private moments.

Across the corridor, a suite of rooms hosts meetings and events, including counselling, meditation, yoga tai-chi and art-therapy as well as play-therapy for children.

Cancer Care West is unique in that the psycho-oncology support it provides is based in the community – it works in conjunction with oncology services in local hospitals.

The Centre saw 1,400 people last year, about two-thirds of whom were patients – the rest were family members and carers. Of the 1,400, some people dropped in three or four times, giving a total of 6,500 visits.

“Some people come to yoga and tai-chi every week and that creates a bond,” says Helen Greally, pointing out that all those people have been through the experience of cancer, which helps to forge a unique fellowship of support.

Coming to these classes, which also include relaxation, art and exercise, is a very simple way of getting people back into having a structure in their lives, during and post-treatment because “the social isolation around cancer is huge”.

Other services offered include manual lymphatic drainage, reflexology and massage as well as benefits advice.

Cancer Care West is a place that doesn’t stand still and next month, a new gym will open in the building’s top floor – an acknowledgement of the role exercise plays in helping people with cancer.

The upstairs space became available earlier this year and Cancer Care West leased it, effectively doubling the 3,000 square feet the centre currently occupies.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.