“I HAVE had senior consultants clamped. I would have my own wife clamped if she were to park in here.”
These are the words of the director of cancer services at University Hospital Limerick, as we wait to take the picture for this article. I try to keep up my calm façade, but my face flushes red, an instant giveaway. We are parked just 10 feet away. Time to move the car.
Professor Rajnish Gupta, consultant oncologist, explains that the third biggest worry patients have when they come for treatment is where they will park, the biggest being nausea and second being the treatment itself.
Patients should not have to worry about menial things when they are coming for treatment, as a free car park is provided for patients of the Cancer Centre, explains Professor Gupta.
This is the ethos of the Cancer Centre in UHL, extra pressures on patients should be alleviated, not added. It is unique in that it is the only Cancer Centre in the country to have a support centre on-site. Both centres are closely linked; the Cancer Centre provides the medical treatment, while the Support Centre provides emotional and psychological support.
Despite their close working relationship and proximity, being separated by the car park, the two buildings are worlds apart.
I am prepared for a clinical atmosphere when I walk into the Cancer Information and Support Centre, but what I get is something completely different.
Music plays quietly in the background, fish swim around tanks and people chat and drink tea. There is a small kitchen located off the waiting room where people come and go as they please.
Viscounts and other treats are thrown on the counter. It has a surprisingly domestic feel.
The Cancer Information and Support Centre is now in its tenth year and last month was re-affiliated with the Irish Cancer Society. The Support Centre offers the services of a councillor and social worker, along with a range of therapies, classes and support groups. These are available to cancer and recovering cancer patients across the Mid-West.
Administrator Maria Kearns and oncology nurse, Cathleen Osborne, show me around the building. They are based in different centres; Maria in the Support Centre and Cathleen in the main Cancer Centre, but they work closely to ensure patients receive the best all round treatment.
Cathleen, explains that the oncology nurses see a huge difference in patients who avail of the Support Centre.
“Patients in the middle of their treatment might have a therapy here in the morning and then go across and get their bloods done,” she says. “It is very beneficial to some patients who would find things difficult, for example cannulation. If people are very tense it is often very difficult to carry out this procedure, but if they have been to the support centre and had a therapy we often find a remarkable difference.”
The Support Centre has launched its new autumn timetable and has a wide range of supports and therapies available including; walking club, afternoon tea, monthly myeloma support group and tai chi. One of the more recent therapies introduced to the Support Centre was mindfulness.
“For patients who suffer from sever symptoms and side effects of the treatment, the whole idea with them attending the mindfulness programme is dealing with their side effects. There is nothing medical, it is a psychological support,” says Cathleen.
She explains that the ‘time to adjust’ programme is offered to patients who have finished their treatment.
“The time to adjust programme is a cognitive behavioural therapy, again it is not a medical treatment, it is not a drug, but it certainly helps patients to bridge the gap between leaving our service and getting back to life, work, family and home.”
The Support Centre recently set up a Something to Sing About Choir, a global phenomenon for cancer patients.
STSA choirs all learn the same songs and the groups across Ireland come together once a year in concert to raise money for cancer research. The idea is to create a global link between cancer patients, says Maria.
Both women emphasize that the best support available at the Centre is the support the patients give each other through socialising and sharing their experiences.
Speaking to Professor Gupta about the Cancer Information and Support Centre, it is immediately clear that he is very passionate about the Support Centre and that the correct supports are available to his patients.
“Having it on-site in walking distance of the main centre means that people who are perhaps waiting for the results of a blood test and so on have easy access to it,” he says. “They can pop across and have a cup of tea and talk to other people who are there.”
“Again it is a bit like the car parking. Why do we need a car park for patients in the centre, why should they be privileged? It is not that they are privileged. I think everyone should have car parking available, but if they haven’t, you look after your own area.”