One of the largest cancer support services in Northern Ireland is Cancer Focus NI. They’re a local charity which opened 51 years ago under its former name, Ulster Cancer Foundation, and work to reduce the impact of cancer on people’s lives. Their main service centre is at Eglantine Avenue in Belfast but their work takes them all across the country. With a vision to see a day when cancer is no longer a life-threatening disease, we spoke to them to find out more about the services they offer and how things have changed in light of COVID-19.
What services do you offer people living with cancer?
Our most popular services are counselling, family support (for children and teenagers whose mum, dad or grandparent has cancer), Sing for Life Choir, art journaling and art therapy for adults and children in hospital, NurseLine, writing therapy and specialist bra-fitting for women who’ve had breast surgery.
We provide a wide range of cancer prevention services to help people lower their risk of cancer. We regularly visit workplaces, colleges, schools and community venues with health checks and to support people who want to adopt a healthier lifestyle or want to stop smoking.
We also fund pioneering research at Queen’s University Belfast into the causes and treatment of breast, oesophageal and pancreatic cancers.
As secretariat of the All Party Group on Cancer at Stormont we advocate for better policy to protect our community and its future, and we are particularly involved with stop smoking, equal access to cancer drugs and UV awareness campaigns.
Some of our services have been halted for the time being due to Covid-19 but we’re continuing to help as many people as possible via Zoom, phone and on private Facebook groups.
Do you have a target demographic who use your services?
Cancer affects people of all ages and our various services are suitable for different age groups. At the moment, for example, we are raising funds through our Support Your Girls campaign to provide a special support group for young women with breast cancer to give them advice on issues such as what to tell the children, infertility and sexual relationships.
How are you funded?
We need almost £4m each year to fund our life-changing services and we rely primarily on the public’s generosity to help us to continue this vital work in the community. Over 90% of our income comes from donations. Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on our fundraising with events postponed or cancelled. At the same time, Covid-19 is creating more issues for cancer patients: treatments have been delayed, cancer screening services paused, and diagnostic clinics cancelled. That’s not to mention the anxiety, stress and loneliness that patients and their families might feel right now. Your support has never been more important.
What’s the most rewarding thing about the work you do?
It’s hugely rewarding when you see the huge difference that our support services make to the wellbeing of those we come in contact with. We can’t affect the outcome for patients but we can support them, their families and carers every step of the way.
What would you say to those who are considering getting in touch with you but are nervous or apprehensive?
Our role is primarily to support people living with cancer during one of the toughest times of their lives. We are warm, welcoming and good listeners and would love to get your call or email, so please do get in touch.
Do you have testimonials from people that have used your services?
“Your journey isn’t over when your treatment stops – it’s an unsure, a bit frightening and a really confusing new journey. My counsellor was a lifeline, a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“The family support service gave my husband and I the courage to talk openly about my cancer with the children, and gave us practical and emotional support and guidance. I’m so appreciative of all the free help that they provided.”
What are the values of your organisation?
We always put our clients first. Our organisation is about care, support, trust and confidentiality, and providing a safe space for you.
And finally, can you describe your organisation in 3 words?
Caring, confidential, dedicated.