Psychological support for cancer

Dr Ruth Sims responds.

I read the articles on cancer in the May edition with interest. They hit rather close to home as my husband has terminal cancer. In January 2020 he was diagnosed with his second primary tumour in five years. He is now 44 years old. At no time has he been offered any kind of psychological support, counselling, or anything else.

His first tumour was an ‘easy’ one – surgery to remove it and then that was it sorted. However, severe health anxiety and the death of his twin sister three years earlier meant it was a very difficult time. Fast-forward to 2020 and a two month stay in hospital for an aggressive liver tumour. I asked repeatedly for some psychological support for him, and was repeatedly met with blank looks and an attitude of ‘why would you want that?’

I persisted and eventually he was referred to psych oncology. They said he didn’t fit their remit as he wasn’t on palliative care. I contacted Macmillan as they have an office at a nearby hospital, just three miles away from where my husband was being treated – they couldn’t help as they only serve the hospital they are based in. Then Covid hit and the NHS refused to give him chemotherapy, so we went private (and were very lucky to have had that option, he would be dead by now without it). I asked again about some counselling or other support – again met with blank looks and surprise to be asked.

I would like to think that our experience is unique and unusual, but I fear it is not. Whilst it’s lovely to read about the support being made available to cancer patients in other places, there is a very long way to go before offering any kind of psychological support to people with such life-impacting and life-limiting diagnoses becomes the norm.

Dr Ruth Sims
Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Ergonomics
University of Derby

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