CancerCare campaign: Lancaster charity chief’s big thank you

Neil Townsend, CancerCare chief executive.
Neil Townsend, CancerCare chief executive.

A year ago, we launched our CancerCare Counts campaign to shine the spotlight on a charity that has helped thousands of people. Today, the charity’s chief executive Neil Townsend thanks all those who have responded to the campaign as we bring it to a close

Since the Lancaster Guardian launched CancerCare Counts last May, we have been overwhelmed by the support from readers across North Lancashire and indeed, beyond – the power of local news!

CancerCare Counts campaign logo.

CancerCare Counts campaign logo.

Our intention was to raise awareness of CancerCare’s amazing work, explain more about what we do, why we do it, and to tell our story through the brave and inspirational words of local people we have helped.

The stories have featured people of all different ages at varying stages of their own cancer journeys including:

lThirty-year-old Ruth Wawszczyk, who battled cancer as a teenager, now living in London teaching music therapy to young kids;

lLocal chef Chris Dickson, dealing with cancer returning after being given the all clear;

lNicola Kerfoot, talking about the crippling anxiety she faced during chemotherapy;

lYoung mum, Rachel Greenwood, who finally found the confidence to seek professional help, years after losing her own mum.

Let’s also remember those sadly no longer with us, including local dad Andy Edwards, whose powerful personal account of living with terminal cancer helped launch the campaign, and Tina Knott, the brave and loving mum who sadly passed away just two weeks ago following her battle with breast cancer.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank each of them and their families for their bravery and humility in sharing their experiences so publicly and also to the reporting team at the Guardian who helped give them a voice.

Stories like these are obviously a really sad reminder of just how horrible and cruel cancer is – but, there is some good we can take from this.

It’s a huge comfort to know that CancerCare’s therapists were able to support them throughout the months and weeks before their deaths, providing a safe place for them to talk. They didn’t have to face it alone.

And for them, to know that CancerCare would still be here to support their loved ones after they were gone would have given them further reassurance during a very difficult time.

When people first come to us, they are, understandably, very frightened. Some might never pick up the phone.

But although cancer is still something many of us struggle talking about, attitudes are starting to change and for us CancerCare Counts has played an important role in this, with a 20% increase in the number of referrals we have received in the past 12 months.

So, the message is getting out there that we are here and talking really does make all the difference. As one of our clients Sarah said: “I couldn’t even bring myself to say the word cancer at first but CancerCare make it less scary.”

As well as raising that important awareness, CancerCare Counts has helped us gain many new supporters and more readers are getting involved, whether that’s by following our social media pages, signing up to one of our events or raising funds for us.

This has helped us raise an additional £10,000, which we now plan to use towards developing a new Youth Service for local teenagers.

We’ve already spoken to over 400 young people from different parts of the area about what cancer means to them and how we might support this particular group in a different way.

This includes a specialist counsellor to work in schools and youth clubs and to develop an opportunity for young people going through a similar experience to meet and chat.

I have been struck by the honesty and openness of this conversation and we have a very clear idea of services and ways of working that we want to develop, subject to further research and of course, funding.

As a local charity, proud of our 34-year history, we have a clear vision to continue to deliver and develop free professional support to individuals and families in all our local communities. This is what we set out to do in 1983 and today, in 2017, those needs are ever present – and growing.

More of us than ever will be affected by cancer in our lives but whilst cancer is not always life ending, it’s nearly always life changing. So having long-term ongoing emotional and psychological support available is absolutely vital.

I’ve said before how lucky we are to have a service like ours in our community but we’re only here for as long as we have your support.

Raising over a million pounds a year to deliver our support services is never easy, but together, we can do it.

Whether you can volunteer your time, take part in one of our fundraising events (there is something for everyone), join our weekly lottery, or leave a legacy to us in your will, all the support we receive ensures everyone in our local community affected by cancer can continue to access the help and support they need, when they need it most.

Thank you

Neil Townsend

CancerCare Chief Executive