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What does cancer treatment look like right now? A view from a CNS

Posted on: Monday, 10th August 2020 by Helen Savage, Macmillan CNS, The Christie Hospital

At the Christie Hospital in Manchester, staff tried to keep things as normal as possible for their patients when the coronavirus pandemic started. Helen, a Macmillan gynaecology clinical nurse specialist (CNS), talks to us about what cancer treatment looks like right now.

At the Christie, we are fortunate that we have not had to stop treatment for our patients, even those having chemotherapy. I really enjoy coming into the clinic and chatting with everyone, and I hope it gives them a sense of normality in these strange times. But of course, we’ve had to make some changes to keep people safe.

The biggest changes are that all staff are now wearing masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), and we also have to keep everyone apart as much as possible. It felt a bit strange at first, but it helps to remember that we’re doing it to keep everyone safe – which is so important for those already having treatment whose immune systems have been affected. The Christie has sent shielding letters to anyone who fits that category, even if they also have a government letter, so everyone understands what they should be doing and why.

Communicating is a bit more difficult now, especially with the masks, and there are times when I just want to comfort someone with a hug but can’t because of social distancing rules. It’s also harder because we can’t have anyone else, like someone’s partner or friend, at the appointment. I try to show that I’m still here in the same way as before, still empathising, still with them through any bad or good news, even if I can’t close that physical gap.

As a CNS, I’m still keeping in touch with my patients as much as possible – this is one of the main elements of my job and it hasn’t changed. We have weekly appointments, often in person, but if not I always make sure to ring and check in. I am seeing that the worries that we usually hear from patients are now multiplied by 100, thanks to coronavirus. Luckily, we’re still able to refer to support organisations, like Macmillan Cancer Support for anyone asking about financial support or Jo's for emotional support

Follow up appointments are generally happening over the phone, and so far our patients have responded really well to that. But, if someone is very anxious, we always say they can ask to come into the clinic for their appointment – it’s really important that people feel as comfortable as possible with any changes and retain a sense of control.

It’s more difficult to help with managing effects of treatment at the moment, because a lot of complementary therapies haven’t been happening. We can still refer for counselling at our psychology department, appointments are over the phone or online for now. Some, like the Maggie’s centres have been offering support online or over the phone, and thankfully things are opening back up now with some in-person available to book. Some charities, like Look Good Feel Better, are also doing virtual workshops, which is wonderful for our patients who aren’t able to get out.

We don’t know how long these new measures will be in place, but we’re keeping everyone up to date about what they can expect when coming to the hospital. The main things we want people to know is that we're focussed on keeping you safe, and that we’re still here if they need support or have questions – that hasn’t changed!

If you have a cervical cancer diagnosis and need support, Jo’s is here for you. Give our free Helpline a call on 0808 802 8000 to talk with our trained volunteers, or join our Forum to connect with others going through a similar experience.