It is a common misconception that CancerCare is only for people who have been diagnosed with cancer...
A large number of clients are referred for support as they need help coming to terms with the death of a loved one.
Of the 1,135 people referred to CancerCare over the last 12 months, nearly a quarter (317) were seeking help for the stress, anxiety and depression caused by a bereavement.
Helen Pearce from Bentham first made contact with CancerCare following the death of her mum Barbara who was diagnosed with cancer in spring 2017.
Losing her mum was a devastating blow for Helen as they were more than just family. Her own struggles with her health meant their relationship had taken on a much deeper significance for her:
“My Mum and I had always had a very close relationship. However, my own struggle with long-term illness over the past 20 years meant that we became even closer. We spoke on the phone multiple times a day, and she came to stay with me most weekends; where we enjoyed crafting, making cards together, and watching films in the evenings,” said Helen.
“We enjoyed day trips out shopping in Manchester, or going to the theatre, and shared some amazing holidays in Australia. She was my carer, my biggest advocate, my best friend and my entire world.”
Within 10 weeks of her diagnosis, Barbara passed away in St John’s Hospice, leaving Helen with a sense of grief that was so overwhelming, her health and wellbeing began to suffer.
“At first I felt really shocked, and this was quickly followed by a feeling of complete and utter devastation. It was the start of my own world beginning to crash down around my feet in slow motion, and feeling helpless and powerless to do anything about it,” she said.
Helen was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression and was signposted to CancerCare by the Hospice bereavement team who recognised she was in desperate need of the services of a specialist one-to-one bereavement counsellor.
Helen said: “The counselling I received was completely life-changing. For the first time since my Mum’s death it provided me with a safe space to finally begin to acknowledge and accept what had happened, and to slowly begin to explore my feelings.
“For an hour each week I no longer had to put on a fake smile and pretend that everything was ok, I could at last let out some emotions and be sad and upset, knowing that I wasn’t being judged. I learnt that it was ok to feel such a profound sense of loss.”
Eighteen months on, Helen describes her life as “transformed.” She is actively engaged in a number of community projects and also campaigning for improvements in mental health services.
“There is no doubt in my mind that without the counselling services provided by CancerCare during some of the darkest hours of my life, I wouldn’t be here today. From feeling incredibly low and with little hope for the future, I am now living a more fulfilling life with a sense of purpose. None of that would have been possible, had I not made that first contact with CancerCare,” said Helen.
Helen continues to be a member of the weekly arts group at Slynedales and she has put her craft skills to good use, donating dozens of handmade Christmas cards to be sold at the charity’s Leighton Hall Christmas Craft Fair on 4 December.
“Christmas will always be one of the most difficult times of year for me. Mum and I both loved it and would spend hours decorating my house whilst listening to Christmas songs. While I always feel her loss more keenly at Christmas, for me, making a donation to CancerCare will be the perfect way to honour my Mum’s memory.”
CancerCare Bereavement Counsellor Helen Fry said: “Christmas can be a very difficult time for people who have been bereaved. The absence of a loved person can feel painfully acute when facing all the familiar Christmas rituals and activities normally shared together. And for people who don’t have a wider extended family to help them through it can be a particularly lonely time.
The warmth, connection, familiarity, kindness that welcomes people when they come to Cancer Care can be a lifeline to people and is especially important at this time of year.”