Our CEO, Rachel Billsberry-Grass, reflects on her first 450 days at Wessex Cancer Support and looks to the future of cancer support
I’m 450 days into my role as Wessex Cancer Support’s CEO and I should be an old hand by now, but I’m still describing myself as ‘new’. I reassure myself that’s OK, given what a roller coaster we’ve all been on since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. For me, this has meant I haven’t seen our Support Centres in all their glory, or managed to meet even half the people I might have if Covid-19 hadn’t been such a force in our lives.
As things begin to return to some level of normality, I’m finding time to reflect on my first year or so with the charity. I’m also focusing on our future: What do people with cancer and their loved ones need from Wessex Cancer Support now and in the years ahead, particularly in light of what we’ve learnt from the pandemic? We’d love to hear your views.
My (non-professional) interest in mental health and wellbeing is what brought me to Wessex Cancer Support. Like most of us, cancer has touched my life through family and friends. Notably, I saw how a cancer journey impacted on the mental health and wellbeing of a close friend and her young family. Without the support of a charity likes ours, she struggled to cope with her experience of cancer.
Of course, the issue of mental health and wellbeing has gained a great deal of prominence over the past few years, helped in part by high profile supporters such as the younger members of the Royal Family. It’s been interesting to see the discussions around the stress on sportspeople at the Tokyo Olympics and other events this summer, and there’s been a lot of focus on how the pandemic has impacted on younger people in particular.
It’s widely understood that a cancer diagnosis can have an effect on how a patient feels emotionally. We found in our own research in 2019 that 61% of people with cancer experienced worry, fear or anxiety, and research by other charities like Macmillan and Cancer Research UK shows that people with cancer identify a lack of emotional support as a great challenge. Despite this, support for cancer patients’ wider needs – including mental health, is patchy and often delayed.
We’re repeating this research to find out how Covid-19 has changed people’s experiences and we’d appreciate your input – you can access the survey here.
So, I could see that the work of our charity is vital, and with many years’ experience in fundraising and marketing, I felt that I could help to add value to Wessex Cancer Support. My aim on joining was to help establish some financial stability so that we could build on the positive reputation we have in order to reach out and provide support for even more people.
Many of you will be all too aware of the impact that Covid-19 has had on cancer services.
In its publication, ‘Building Back Cancer Services,’ the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) reports that during the first year of the pandemic, 369,000 fewer people than expected were referred to a specialist for a suspected new cancer diagnosis, which they estimate has led to 19,500 missing cancer diagnoses. Many people felt too scared to seek help for symptoms or felt anxious about whether services could be accessed safely. The Wessex region is working hard to address the delays across the cancer care pathway, but the individual emotional impact will inevitably be long-lasting. At Wessex Cancer Support, we pride ourselves in being experts at helping our clients manage the emotional impact of cancer, from diagnosis to recovery. If the estimates and statistics prove to be true, the next few years will see an increase in people accessing our services and we need to be ready and able to support them in the best possible way.
Since I joined, we’ve been working hard to improve the charity’s financial stability. With the limits imposed by Covid-19, we’ve changed the way we fundraise and have implemented a cost saving plan. We’ve looked to maximise opportunities as they’re presented, and we’ve been really lucky that generous donors have remembered us in their wills. We hope that over the next year this will enable us to rebuild our reserves to give us future security. Importantly, it will also enable us to sensibly invest in sustainable growth so that we can provide our services to more people throughout the Wessex region.
As we continue to grow and adapt the support we provide, we’d love to hear your views about our services, how they can be improved, and what you think our priorities should be. You may remember completing a survey in 2019. In light of Covid-19, it’s important that we ask those same questions again, to find out if your views and needs have changed.
Please follow this link to complete the survey. Your views are incredibly important in helping us to shape our future cancer support services and to continue to be here for everyone who needs us.