Macmillan Support Line (MSL), Cancer Information Nurse Specialist, Karla Scott has worked for Macmillan for over three years. She is a registered nurse who has been qualified for 13 years. Before joining Macmillan, she worked at the Beatson Oncology Centre in Glasgow and then for an insurance company supporting their customers with cancer over the phone.
“Our free helpline is open between 9am and 8pm, Monday to Friday. My day shift begins at 9am and late shifts at 12md. We’re always really busy, especially when advertising campaigns are on, so we’re ready to go from the off.
“People contact us from all over the UK and sometimes from across the world. People who are worried about symptoms or side effects. People who are going through investigations, had a cancer diagnosed, their families, friends, work colleagues, employers and anyone coping with life after cancer. You never know what you’re going to be asked and every day brings a new enquiry. That’s what makes this job so interesting.
“Calls can be short or long, that depends on the issues that the caller brings. We have the time and resources to support anyone affected by cancer, I think that’s what makes our service so special. If we need a bit more time to investigate or research, we can take as much time as we need to do this.
“Then we can call people back or email them further information. MSL can also help with money worries. We have teams of Financial Guides who can help with any personal finance issues and Welfare Rights advisers who can assist with benefits and Macmillan grants. After the call we can arrange for anyone who wants to access these services.
Often people want to talk about their diagnosis and make sure they’re getting the best treatment.
“By looking at guidelines and research we can chat through what’s recommended, encouraging them to have these conversations with their hospital team. Talking about cancer, symptoms or how people are feeling can be tough, especially with all the medical jargon.
“We can help people prepare, understand the terminologies and think about what they’d like to ask so they get the right support.
“We provide people with the reassurance they need to go on and ask their doctors or cancer team about a question or issue that they might have. Often callers don’t want to bother their consultant or nurse unnecessarily as they can seem busy but speaking to us helps to reassure them that talking to their hospital team about anything they’re thinking or worried about is important. If their team aren’t told, they can’t help.
“People call to find out more about the side effects of cancer treatment and how to manage these. Sometimes they can’t talk to those close to them because they don’t want to worry or upset them. Many people find it difficult to admit they’re struggling months or years after their treatment is over.
“The long term effects of a cancer diagnosis and treatment can be far reaching and it’s important that everyone is supported and feels able to talk about what’s happening so they can be signposted to services that can help.
“We can also be a big support to family and friends of anyone living with or after a diagnosis of cancer. As family and friends often live far away from each other– it can make getting information about what’s happening difficult and can make supporting each other a bit harder. We can provide more information, filling in the blanks and provide some much needed emotional support.
“In a clinical setting, people tend to focus more on their immediate health issues, rather than any other concerns or problems relating to their diagnosis which they may have had or the impact this has had on their life. Working on the support line means we have in-depth conversations with people about their condition. It’s amazing what honest and open conversations we can have.
“The privacy of a phone conversation allows people to open up in a way which is harder to do in a face to face conversation with a healthcare professional. Often people are calling because they are feeling very vulnerable and lonely, our job is to give them the information and support that’s right for them. You’d be surprised about the level of support and understanding that can be given over the phone.
It’s not just calls though as we also answer emails enquiries from ‘Just Ask’ on our website, questions that come in through Macmillan’s ‘Ask A Nurse’ section of our online community and sometimes through Macmillan’s social media pages (Facebook and Twitter).
“I love my job, our team is fantastic – lots of lovely people and a nice calm environment. And to know that you are providing support for people at a difficult point in their lives is really rewarding. Macmillan wants to make sure no one has to face cancer alone, and my role helps to make sure that really is the case.”