AROUND 700 newly diagnosed cancer patients in Northern Ireland each year lack support from friends and family during their treatment, new research has indicated.
The number who said they experienced isolation represented almost 10 per cent of the 8,000 people who are diagnosed with the disease every 12 months, according to the study by Macmillan Cancer Support. Around 400 of those patients said they received no help at all and had to face cancer completely alone.
Common explanations provided by those questioned included family members and friends living too far away or having other commitments. Many patients said they felt they had no one to turn to.
Elsewhere in the UK the issue appears even more acute, with the nationwide study by Macmillan finding that almost one in four (70,000) of 325,000 newly diagnosed patients lack support from family and friends, with around 20,000 of those saying they had faced cancer completely alone.
Macmillan’s general manager in Northern Ireland, Heather Monteverde, said: “It’s encouraging that cancer patients in Northern Ireland are significantly less likely to feel isolated than the UK average. However, we don’t want anyone to face cancer on their own.
“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.
“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.”
One woman who said cancer had left her feeling isolated is former office worker Ann McManus.
The 59-year-old from Belfast, who underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat cervical cancer after being diagnosed in November 2011, said she often felt “just really lonely”.
“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,” she said.
Another woman who has felt isolated is Philomena Gallagher from Portadown, 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,” said the 61-year-old. “Having to give all that up means I spend a lot more time on my own now. 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.”
The report found that one in six (18 per cent) UK patients surveyed had lost touch with family or friends because of their diagnosis, while four in five (80 per cent) say the financial impact of cancer meant they could not afford to see their family or friends as much. One in eight (12 per cent) of people living with cancer surveyed said they had not had a single visit from friends or family in over six months.
More than half (53 per cent) of isolated patients said they had skipped meals or not eaten properly due to a lack of support at home.
To find out about the support Macmillan can offer visit www.macmillan.org.uk or call 0808 808 0000. To find out about cancer support available across Northern Ireland visit http://survivorship.cancerni.net/