Supporting cancer in rural locations

Cancer can affect us all no matter where we live: whether that is in a large city or in a remote and rural location.

For those living remotely having a cancer diagnosis can mean that they face many challenges which have a much more negative impact on their health and well being compared to someone living in a city location.

So what are some of these challenges and what is Macmillan doing about them?

Our research tells us that a cancer diagnosis can leave people feeling lonely and isolated no matter where they live. For some people in remote and rural communities when they are already living far from friends, family, neighbours a cancer diagnosis can make them feel not just physically isolated but also emotionally isolated and lonely too.

One of our solutions to this is to develop volunteer led schemes providing emotional and practical support for people and their carers who are facing cancer.

Our direct volunteering services can provide clients with practical and emotional support.  Fully trained volunteers can help her with housework, shopping, gardening or walking the dog.  They can also provide a listening ear and signpost her to other Macmillan services that can support people affected by cancer. This is especially important in rural and isolated settings as for some this might be the only visit they get that day. It really can make all the difference.

There are now over 80 individual schemes throughout the UK with around 350 volunteers who have helped more than 2,000 people . Our volunteers are all trained and supported to carry out these roles and demand is growing for this service throughout the UK.

Another challenge for remote regions is that often don’t have range of services in a local area – anything from doctor and healthcare services, local advice centres, specialist treatment, information and support.  Combine that with the lack of good infrastructure such as good roads, regular public transport service, even good internet connections.

For people going through cancer this can mean very long journeys (not uncommon for 200 mile/ 320 km trip to cancer centre) to get to hospital appointments and treatment having less choice and opportunities simply because of where they live.

So at Macmillan, as well as finding ways to develop medical and treatment centres in these more remote and rural locations, we also know from what people tell us that  the practical and emotional impact of cancer can be significant both for the individual directly affected and all those around them.

In 2014 we opened the first Macmillan Cancer information and support service in the area in Campbeltown and Rothesay libraries.

These information points are run by trained volunteers who give their time on a regular basis to provide access to a range of information about cancer as well as to other local services that may be available and most importantly provide a safe and welcoming space for anyone to come and talk to our volunteers about what is concerning them.

So at Macmillan, our ambition is that no one should face cancer alone. We recognise the real challenges for those in remote locations and we have been and continue to focus on how we can better support these communities so that they do not have to face cancer alone.

By Claire Alexander, Volunteering Adviser, Scotland and Northern Ireland