Celebrities and charity join forces to urge people with cancer not to suffer in silence amid signs of a surge in loneliness among patients

Celebrities are starring in a powerful new video urging people affected by cancer to “come forward and get the support you need” amid signs they are suffering in silence.

Stars including actor Daisy Edgar-Jones and Joanna Lumley have joined forces with Macmillan Cancer Support to tell people to contact the charity for help and to “let it all out”, as new research reveals over a quarter of a million people (270,000) with cancer in the UK (9%) feel they have no one to talk to about their worries because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Almost half a million people with cancer in the UK (450,000; 15%) say they have been spending too much time alone and approaching one million (870,000; 29%) are stressed, anxious or depressed because of the coronavirus, according to the survey by Macmillan.

The findings reflect the charity’s concerns about the impact of ongoing isolation on the mental wellbeing of people with cancer, many of whom have been isolating for the entire pandemic, unable to see loved ones when they’ve had agonising news about cancer returning or progressing, and unable to partake in activities which allow them to keep busy or to live well with the disease.

It comes at a time of extreme pressure on the NHS and the video sees the famous faces calling on people affected by cancer to contact Macmillan with any “concerns about shielding, the vaccine, or whether treatment will go ahead” — or even if they “just need someone to talk to”. Macmillan hopes its free Support Line, staffed by specially trained nurses and advisors, can play a key role in helping to alleviate some of the pressure on overstretched NHS healthcare professionals working in the current crisis.

Ann O’Flynn, Head of Information and Support at Macmillan Cancer Support said:

“We’re hearing from distressed patients and relatives every day and the deep sense of isolation they are feeling at the moment is heart breaking. Being separated from loved ones as you go through cancer treatment is an unimaginably sad and difficult experience that no one deserves to go through. We are getting an increasing number of calls from people struggling with isolation and experiencing very high anxiety levels who don’t have their usual support of family and friends around them.

“Many people don’t realise that we have cancer information nurse specialists and other specialist advisors ready to help them on our support line and online community. Collectively we have a huge amount of knowledge about cancer, from benefits and advice about cancer and work through to information about diagnosis and treatment, and we’re ready and waiting to take your call. Please don’t think you have to go through this alone — we are here to help you.”

The charity has already seen a surge in demand for support with several issues related to people’s medical care. There has been a 43% increase in the number of people contacting its helpline for the first time about pain and symptom management over the past six months, compared with the same time last year[ii]. There has also been a 26% increase in new requests for help or advice with accessing hospital or community care[iii]. Similarly, website hits are up by 57% since the start of the first lockdown[iv], and there have been more than 6 million views of the charity’s cancer information and support pages.

Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive at Macmillan Cancer Support said:

“Macmillan has long played a vital role in the NHS and, in this time of national crisis, we will continue to do whatever it takes to support people with cancer and the health service as it continues to struggle against the tidal wave of Covid-19 patients and ongoing winter pressures. Healthcare professionals are doing all they can to keep cancer care on track, but we also know some people are experiencing disruption to their treatment. For anyone with questions about cancer, whether you’re worried about signs or symptoms or how to prepare for your next appointment, please give our support line a call.”

Rachael Gresty, 30, from Newquay, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January 2020 and started treatment during the first national lockdown. She said:

“Receiving my cancer diagnosis was absolutely devastating. I’m only 30 and my partner is 26. Never in my life did I envisage getting something like this, especially now.

“I suffered a lot with depression and anxiety last year, being stuck in all the time and only really leaving for chemotherapy. I found myself struggling a lot when my hair started to fall out — it was so much to deal with on top of coping with isolation and lockdown. Going through all of that without family and friends by my side was extremely hard.

“Macmillan’s Telephone Buddies scheme helped enormously. It meant that I had somebody to talk to. I was paired with Lisa and sometimes it felt like I’d known her forever. We’d talk about stuff that had been on television, what we’d been doing in the week, gardening, just day-to-day life. There were calls where the word ‘cancer’ wasn’t even mentioned. Sometimes that’s exactly what you need.”

Macmillan has recruited the help of the celebrities, who also include Davina McCall, Fearne Cotton, Rylan Clark-Neal and Sheridan Smith, in the new video to encourage more people to make use of the charity’s round-the-clock support in this crisis. Patients and their loved ones can contact Macmillan’s phoneline, where specially trained cancer nurses and advisors are there for anyone affected by or worried about cancer, every day of the week on 0808 808 00 00 (8am-8pm). Additional emotional support is available through the charity’s ‘Telephone Buddies’ scheme — an 8-week support system for people with cancer who may be isolated from loved ones. Peer-to-peer support is available 24 hours a day on its Online Community, an online forum with over 90,000 members. The charity is also reminding anyone worried about cancer symptoms to contact their GP as an absolute priority. The latest guidance on coronavirus for people with cancer is also available on the charity’s online Covid-19 hub.

Normal People actor Daisy Edgar-Jones said:

“I know first-hand how vital good support is when a loved one has cancer. Macmillan has specially-trained teams who are on hand round-the-clock, every day to help. I’d urge you to get in touch with them if you need any support at all — whether to share your worries with a friendly voice, for guidance on your finances or to get answers to day-to-day questions.”

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