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Published 16 January 2020

A pioneering new service to support people affected by cancer in West Dunbartonshire was officially launched today.

Macmillan Improving the Cancer Journey (ICJ), which is a partnership between West Dunbartonshire Council and Macmillan Cancer Support, offers all newly-diagnosed adults the opportunity to meet with a dedicated support worker on a one-to-one basis.

The worker will then help the patient access a wide range of support, from benefits advice and emotional support to help at home or with other practical needs.

Each cancer patient in the area is advised of the service by letter within six weeks of receiving their diagnosis. 

Following a discussion about their needs and concerns, a care plan to support them and their family is designed. 

The Macmillan ICJ officers can meet patients in variety of convenient locations including West Dunbartonshire Libraries, Council offices, at home or in a hospital setting.

The service, which began its support in April last year, was officially launched at West Dunbartonshire Council’s Church Street offices in Dumbarton today.

During the event, the gathered audience - which included Councillor Diane Docherty, Convener of Housing and Communities, Chief Executive Joyce White and Macmillan’s Head of Service in Scotland Janice Preston - heard from service user Lorraine Andrew about the help she had received from ICJ in Glasgow and how she has helped shape the service in West Dunbartonshire.

Lorraine said: "I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 and it spread to my lungs, liver and my bones. I really struggled to come to terms with it, and had worries about how I would cope with family, work and housing.

"I needed all the help I could get, so as soon as I found out about Improving the Cancer Journey, I called them. I'm so glad I did and I really want people to be aware if they are going through a similar thing that they can get help too.

"When I was diagnosed I was living in a first floor flat and I was getting a lot of leg pain, so I struggled to walk up and down stairs. Thanks to ICJ, I was moved into a ground floor flat, and received help with benefits. The ICJ officers also helped me apply for a disability badge for my car. But by far the biggest advantage of the support given by ICJ was the fact that I didn't have to tell my story to multiple people. I told it once, and the ICJ officers passed it on.

"I cannot express how much the support from Macmillan has helped me mentally, physically and financially. It has given me a better quality of life.

"It was so important for me to give something back to Macmillan ICJ and by becoming involved in the setting up of the service in West Dunbartonshire I have been able to do that. I have shared my experiences through the user group, and these have helped to shape how the service operates in this area.

"I would encourage anyone going through a cancer diagnosis to get in touch."

Other service users were also present, including one mum of four who received support after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

She said: “I still think I haven’t really come to terms with it, even though I have the scars to prove it happened.

“After my diagnosis  I had a mastectomy and reconstruction, and while it was a relief the cancer was gone, that wasn’t the end of my journey. I was still very much in a lot of pain, I was suffering from extreme fatigue, I couldn’t walk far or carry anything and I needed help to do even small tasks. In addition to that, I was now starting to worry about very practical things like work and bills. I felt extremely vulnerable.

 “I’m so glad I had the support of ICJ as I then had a person I knew I could phone for advice any time. It made such a difference to speak to somebody who knew what I had been through.

“With the service’s assistance, I was able to organise a blue badge for a year, which gave me a bit of freedom to get out and about again without having to walk too far, and they also helped me get a new cooker, as I struggled to open my old one due to pains in my arm as a result of the surgery.

“I was also referred for counselling, and was able to attend an exercise class and yoga. They even helped me organise a phased return to work when I didn’t feel ready to go back. All of these things reassured me, and helped me begin to get my freedom and confidence back.

“The officers at ICJ are extremely approachable and compassionate and I am so thankful to the service.”

Councillor Diane Docherty, Convener of Housing and Communities, said: “There are more than 3000 people living with cancer in West Dunbartonshire and we expect this to grow in the next ten years.

“While it’s good news that advances in treatment mean that more people than ever are surviving, it also means that people living with cancer are living longer, often with long-term effects of treatment or other health conditions that have a huge impact on health, wellbeing and independence. Many of them don't know where to go for help coping with the non-medical effects of the illness.

“The aim of the new service is to make things easier at a time when it may feel like the world is falling apart, and I was extremely humbled today to hear from two service users who have felt the benefit of that support.”

Macmillan's Head of Services in Scotland, Janice Preston, said: “Cancer has a huge impact on every aspect of people's lives and many patients tell us they don't know where to turn for help. This new service should make sure everyone in West Dunbartonshire with cancer has someone to call on for help, no matter what they need. We hope this service will transform cancer support in West Dunbartonshire.

“It’s thanks to the continued support from people locally, who fundraise for us and donate so generously, that we are able to fund this vital new service. With their help we are able to make a huge difference to the lives of people affected by cancer in West Dunbartonshire.”

Macmillan Cancer Support has invested £320,000 into the programme, which will see Macmillan, West Dunbartonshire Council and other third sector organisations working together to provide a seamless, accessible and personal support for people affected by cancer.

The new programme is part of an £18 million partnership which is set to make Scotland the first country in the UK where cancer patients will be guaranteed wraparound support. The Scottish Government and Macmillan Cancer Support are investing £9 million each to ensure everyone with cancer is offered emotional, practical and financial help from a dedicated support worker.

The service is open to any person over the age of 16 and living with cancer in West Dunbartonshire. To arrange an appointment please complete the online referral form at www.west-dunbarton.gov.uk/jobs-and-training/working4u/money-advice/cancer-journey-service/ , call the Macmillan Support Line on 08009809070 or email  improving.cancerjourney@west-dunbarton.gov.uk