It's good to talk ... especially when you are in need of help

CANCER charity ­bosses are calling for people in Glasgow to take advantage of a specialist helpline for those ­affected by the illness.

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The Macmillan Cancer Support helpline, staffed by expert nurses, is available Monday to Friday for anyone needing information and advice.

However, although the service is well used nationally, staff say people in Glasgow are not calling up.

Senior nurse Ellen Lang, who runs a team of 31 nurses, said: "We are here 9am to 8pm Monday to Friday running the only service of this type in the UK.

"We provide information and support to anyone ­affected by cancer, whether that's someone who has the illness or a friend, neighbour or family member.

"But, although the ­service is really well used by people in other parts of Scotland, it seems that those in Glasgow and the West of Scotland just aren't getting in touch.

"I have no idea why - ­especially as we're a bunch who love a good gab - but we'd like to see that change, particularly as we have some of the highest rates of cancer in the world."

The service began 15 years ago as an initiative from Cancer Back Up, founded by five volunteer nurses.

It has since been taken over by Macmillan and the helpline has grown to 31 nurses, a research librarian and a team of financial guidance officers.

There is also a translation service for people who do not speak English.

Frontline staff take calls and decide how best to help the person on the other end of the phone.

Each nurse has a ­specialism and the calls will be referred to the person most able to help.

Calls range from ­people who have been ­newly diagnosed, those who want to know about the latest treatments available or callers who wish to find out about end-of-life care.

Patients are given ­information and guidance about services available to them and where they can turn to for support.

Ellen added: "Every day and every call is completely different.

"Being diagnosed with cancer can be a shock, so people don't always take in what they've been told or think about the right questions to ask.

"We can help explain a diagnosis, talk through treatment options and give the person the right questions to take back to their consultant.

"That can be a very ­empowering at a time in your life when everything feels to be outwith your control.

"Other times we'll maybe have someone whose relative is dying and they want to be talked through exactly what's going to happen in their final few days.

"There is no time limit on how long we can spend talking to someone so we'll stay with them until they have what they need."

If the line is busy, the ­service will call people back within three hours of them getting in touch.

Nurse Allan Reid has been part of the helpline team at Macmillan for the past three years and has been nursing for 12.

He had been working in plastic surgery when he was given the chance to take a secondment ­caring for head and neck cancer patients who were having reconstructive surgery.

That position lead to an interest in the work of Macmillan and prompted Allan to apply for a job with the helpline.

Allan said: "It is very, very different to what I was doing before but I ­absolutely love it.

"When you are nursing you can have a high t­urnover of patients, which means you don't get to spend as long as you would like with them or get to know them as well as you would like.

"The great thing about working here is that you never feel rushed. You can spend as long as you like with a client and help them for as long as they need."

Staff say it is often easier for patients to call them than it is to talk to their GP.

Sometimes the number of calls spike when a ­cancer campaign is being advertised on TV or a soap opera has a cancer-related storyline.

If nurses don't have the answer to a question they will research the query and phone the caller back.

Allan said: "Another great benefit of being here is that you are constantly learning new things.

"Sometimes you're asked questions that you just don't know the answer to, but we're trained to find out the information and then get back to the client.

"You go from having quite a narrow specialism to suddenly needing to know about a lot of different things but learning is encouraged and we're given time to keep up to date with the latest treatments and clinical practice.

"We're here to respond to the needs of the clients and hopefully we'll be able to encourage more from Glasgow to get in touch."

Call the helpline free on 0808 808 00 00.


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