NORTH of Scotland cancer charity CLAN is urgently looking for more people in Shetland to offer their time to support clients – with the service currently down to just three volunteers.
The charity provides vital advice to people affected by a cancer diagnosis, a service that is in high demand and likely to grow further as an increasingly elderly population is more likely to be affected by cancer at some stage in their lives.
Current support volunteer Alex Cameron started volunteering two years after accessing CLAN Cancer Support for help with her own cancer diagnosis.
She recalls how the service offered by CLAN has helped her in coming to terms with the devastating diagnosis and supported her through her cancer journey.
“I started helping in the charity shop first to get my life back online,” Cameron said. “I wanted to be able to help the service.” It wasn’t long before she moved into a support role.
CLAN area services co-ordinator Dorothy Jamieson added: “When you can see someone with the value of Alex, you just want to grab it.”
Cameron remembered when she first came to CLAN she was in “quite a poor state” going through her cancer diagnosis. She didn’t access radiotherapy or chemotherapy, but was referred to the service and received support throughout her cancer journey.
People can get access to emotional support and counselling, cancer support groups, health and wellbeing support, complementary therapies. CLAN also has a dedicated children and family service.
While having lived experience of cancer is a benefit, it is not a requirement for volunteer roles. A vital part of the service is having a non-judgemental ear to talk to.
Cameron recalled a large part of the support can also involve speaking to someone about the changes a person goes through when they receive a cancer diagnosis.
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Discussing these, she said: “It changes everything. It’s changed my physical abilities, not so much for the better. I get more tired. It changed my appearance. It’s also changed my attitude and how I look at life.”
The volunteer added: “It does make you re-evaluate everything. You can be a totally different person after and feel a pressure to conform to normality.”
Cameron also said it can be difficult for family and friends to cope with the new situation, and they can also access support from CLAN.
Support volunteers take on phone calls and sessions with clients affected by a cancer diagnosis, which can cover family or friends, as well as the diagnosed person.
Cameron said: “Volunteers all get to bounce off each other. One thing isn’t right for one person. It’s different for everyone.”
Debriefs are available for volunteers who feel they’ve had a particularly taxing call and need a bit of support themselves.
Jamieson added that current staff and volunteers are the “salt of the earth”, while Cameron said the support service was a “home from home for some folk”.
Jamieson said: “It’s about finding someone to speak to who won’t judge you or sway you to feel one way or the other, having that is gold dust.”
The approach is person-centred, so everyone gets help and advice tailored to their needs and circumstances.
Now, working for the service, Cameron found it a “privilege” to speak to service users and share their experience.
Training for the role involves two days of support, listening and counselling coaching, which includes learning how to listen effectively. Trainees can also practice phone calls, and shadow current volunteers on live phone calls before taking over.
While the minimum requirement for volunteers is three hours per week, Jamieson added they are willing to work and be flexible around people’s schedules, including shift work.
She said: “If anyone’s interested, it’s just a case of getting in touch.”
Application forms are currently available on the CLAN website.
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