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Cancer support specialist aids children and teens

A regional cancer support specialist is reaching out to the youngest in the west, devastated by a diagnosis.

Rachel Duffy has been travelling across Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon and Donegal providing informal therapeutic social and emotional support to families impacted by a childhood and adolescent cancer diagnosis since February.

She is one of four community-based staff – jointly funded by the charities Cancer Fund for Children and the Katie Nugent Fund – working with diagnosed children, teens and young adults up to 24, their siblings and wider families in their own homes, communities and care centres.

On average around 360 children and young people are diagnosed with cancer every year. So far, the Galway-based paediatric nurse who is a native of Roscommon has worked with 20 families in the region since she took up her new role.

“I could ring and they have just got the diagnosis and are in the throes of treatment. They may need help organising transport or just need a listening ear over the phone,” she explains.

“Parents usually know what they need. Sometimes it’s about sitting around the table chatting or one to one therapy. It’s about creating a safe space for the family. Sometimes I do arts, activities like board games, video games but there’s a purpose behind each visit. They know why I’m there, so I might drop in questions about how they’re getting on.

“Sometimes they don’t want to talk about, other times it will spill out of them. If they’re feeling anger, or they’re anxious, we might do some deep breathing. Each visit is different and flexible to each family.”

While her background is medical, having worked in hospitals as well as community healthcare, the service is not. Rachel will help organise counselling or play therapy if she and the family see that more formal help is needed.

“I really help parents navigate through everything they are thrown. Once a referral goes in, we support them for two years.”

“Coming from a nursing background I understand the importance of support outside the hospital setting. To be able to go into a family’s home and spend time with parents, siblings and children diagnosed with cancer is a real privilege.

“It is so important for families to have that time and space to express and discuss how they are feeling and coping throughout this journey.”

Neil Symington, director of services at Cancer Fund for Children, said the charities working in partnership was the only way to fund these four new roles.

“A cancer diagnosis affects the whole family and beyond the excellent care provided in hospital wards, the need for ongoing emotional support for the whole family is significant.

“It is fitting that we have these new roles filled in time for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time when we are particularly keen to ensure that young people are an active voice in championing change across cancer services. We will be developing our youth engagement programme to reflect that.”

Alice Nugent of the Katie Nugent Fund said it was the joint ambition of the two charities that no family should face childhood cancer alone.

“Having seen the benefits that the service already provides at Crumlin Hospital, I am excited to roll out these four additional community specialist roles nationally. All of this will hopefully prove of immeasurable benefit to many families for years to come,” she stated.

The Katie Nugent Fund was founded by parents Nick and Alice Nugent from Co Westmeath after the death of their six-year-old daughter in 2010 to leukaemia. It funds psychological and emotional support for the children attending the National Children’s Cancer Service at Crumlin.

The Daisy Lodge in Cong, Co Mayo, is due to go out for building tenders this month. It is expected to be open in summer of 2025 to give therapeutic two-day breaks to families impacted by childhood cancer.

It will run in the same way as the Daisy Lodge in Co Down, which has facilities families from the region but is often full.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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