The power of friendship

Written by: Janice Malone, Engagement & Volunteering Manager, Macmillan Cancer Support

Published: 10/06/2020

Graphic of twelve people standing in a line holding hands, in multiple colours

COVID-19 has changed the way we work and has created opportunities for organisations to collaborate.

Thinking about my life in ‘pre-pandemic’ Scotland, we were all so busy. Family, kids, work, life in general.  Then almost overnight the world changed, fear, anxiety, worry – that uncertainty that you feel as dread in the pit of your stomach.

Then, my thoughts turned to people with cancer.  Imagine those who have cancer, who may have had their treatment paused with no indication of when it will restart.  Who may still be asked to continue with their treatment, but are frightened to visit a hospital.

Those whose support networks were removed in the blink of an eye, who are advised to shield themselves and have no contact with the outside world for at least 12 weeks. So many finding themselves isolated, lonely and scared.

My job at Macmillan Cancer Support allows me the privilege of hearing the experiences of people with cancer, not only that but taking those experiences and feeding them into the organisation to ensure that people with cancer are supported in the ways that matter to them.

At Macmillan we immediately set to work to create a virtual support service that would be available to anyone living with cancer, their family and friends.  More than 70 staff from across the organisation came together to create Macmillan Telephone Buddies which aims to support between 2500 – 7500 people across the UK during the pandemic period.

The way that the staff pulled together to make Telephone Buddies a reality is nothing short of incredible.  The dedication and commitment that everyone has displayed has been humbling to see.

The service is delivered by a wonderful team of volunteers, many of whom have supported Macmillan for some time, and many others who have volunteered for the charity for the first time.  These volunteers provide friendship, someone to share your worries and fears with, someone who is there to listen – usually once a week for a 12 week period.  It allows the person time to get to know their volunteer and build up trust and rapport – which is where the magic lies.

Many of you out there will know how much of a challenge it can be for third sector organisations to team up and work jointly – for a myriad of reasons.  However, at Macmillan we have managed to join forces with another charity, Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland.  So many people in Scotland are living with more than one health condition, and are in need of support.

Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland’s ‘Kindness Project’ has seen over 5000 volunteers across Scotland sign up to provide Kindness Calls to people in need.  Not only that their army of Kindness Volunteers can also provide practical support – shopping, collecting medications and dog walking.  Here at Macmillan, if we come across anyone in need of practical support we refer them directly to Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland.   If Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland come across someone with cancer who is in need of emotional support they refer that person into the Macmillan Telephone Buddies service.  It is our hope that by joining forces and working together that we will reach many more people.

Isolation and loneliness in this country are at record levels, but the ‘silver lining’ to the awful situation we find ourselves in is so many people are reaching out to support others – whether that be in their own local community or by joining a service like Macmillan Telephone Buddies.  This country has kindness and heart in spades – and for that I am truly thankful.

If you or someone you know has cancer and needs support, they can access Macmillan Telephone Buddies by visiting the website www.macmillan.org.uk/telephonebuddies (this link will take you away from our website) or calling the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 0000.

If you or someone you know has a Chest, Heart or Stroke condition, they can access the Kindness Project by visiting the website  https://www.chss.org.uk/coronavirus/i-need-help/ (this link will take you away from our website) or calling the Advice Line on 0808 801 0899.

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