“Cancer Relief’s aim is to support people affected with cancer through the many services we offer patients, their relatives and friends at the Cancer Relief Centre and in the community.
We want people to understand what the centre is really like and how we can help”
– Gráinne McKenna, Cancer Relief Charity Manager.
What do you think of when someone mentions the ‘Cancer Relief Centre’? Do you picture a sad place or a place of hope and security? If the second option was your thought process, then we need to help those who thought the first to jump on the bandwagon!
We know nothing will take away the crushing blow you may feel when you are diagnosed with cancer, but the good news is that more and more people are surviving cancer and living with their disease.
Cancer Relief Gibraltar is here to help with just that. The present Centre has been open for 5 years ever since it was given a beautiful colonial building by the Government of Gibraltar. Gráinne McKenna, the Centre’s Charity Manager and experienced nurse, explains that one of the charity’s biggest challenges is “the misconception of what a cancer centre is”, she says, “It is usually associated with a place of illness or as a day support centre for elderly care”.
If you’ve never been, picture a Maggie Centre (a drop-in centre for those affected by cancer within the UK) but just a little less abstract looking on the outside. Rows of huge casement windows let in rays of blissful sunshine; as the centre is perched on South Barack Road the Mediterranean Sea is a sight that cannot be missed, offering a blanket tranquillity.
Gráinne explained that “people with cancer are still people, they have their everyday lives and go about their day as anyone would. Yes, you’ve got this illness, but you can still live a good life.” She continues, “When you are first told you have cancer, that diagnosis can be overwhelming and take over your whole life. Our aim is to support you as much as possible through the illness in order to enable you to live with it rather than let it take control”.
The centre offers fifteen different services that can help you get back what you thought was lost. The most popular service is their complementary therapy, done by trained professionals – this is offered to anyone affected by cancer, not just the person diagnosed with cancer. There are four different types of therapies – aromatherapy massage, holistic massage, reflexology and reiki.
Their second most popular service is the nurse support clinics, they offer 1-to-1 appointments with experienced nurses to go over how you are, how you are coping, and/or just to talk. If the 1-to-1 appointments do not meet your needs, the centre offers more tailored individual packages of support including a day support service. The Centre really is a home away from home. Indeed, speaking of home, the Centre offers home visits from a specialised nurse or therapist who can call on you should you be unable to attend the Centre.
This Centre is unique from other cancer centres in the UK, in that it can cater for the whole community of Gibraltar and not just a small percentage. In fact, the centre is always looking for ways to get more people affected by cancer to come in and use their services. In 2013 there were only 4-5 day services and 94 new referrals. Now in 2018, they have over 170 new referrals, that’s 15 every week! Gráinne says, “It means the world to us that more people are coming to us for support, it shows that people are more aware of what we can do, and we are hopefully slowly breaking down the fear of cancer”.
While the number of people using their services is growing steadily, the services the Centre offers continue to develop. The Charity has worked closely over the years with the Government of Gibraltar and the GHA to develop a plan in order to reach their ultimate goal of one day having a small in-patient hospice. This is a three phase plan:
1. To develop their day services – now offering 15 different services!
2. To develop their community services further by expanding the existing community service with more nurses and a part-time doctor. This would allow them to support even more people at home rather than just the centre.
3. And finally, hopefully one day to open a small in-patient unit providing care for patients and families who need this type of specialist medical and nursing attention.
The Centre works closely with the GHA on a daily basis, they are like an extended part of the local cancer care team, so if you have been admitted to the GHA hospital they can refer you to the centre should you wish. You can also self-refer; Gráinne explains you can “simply give us a call, or a drop us an email, a Facebook message and we will see you as soon as possible. It’s open to all who need us.”
The Centre is around for simply one purpose, and that is for YOU! Go see it for yourself, even if it’s just to see what they can offer you – they are more than accommodating.
A little bit about the Centre’s Manager – Gráinne:
If you could ask any three people to a dinner party who would they be?
“Michelle Obama, because as a strong intelligent and compassionate woman I think she would be fascinating; Elon musk – I love space, I’m a Final Frontier girl, and Trekkie all the way! I believe in the cosmos and the universe. His passion and drive for technology is inspiring. He also seems a bit crazy, but you need a bit of crazy! To help break down barriers; David Attenborough, I’m all about the environment; Helena Carter (Bellatrix), she just seems like the kind of girl you want to go out with. You would never know how the night would end, possibly getting pushed down a hill in a shopping trolley!”
Finally, what advice do you have for those out there?
“Stick with your passion and don’t give up – if you’ve got a passion and a vision that you know will work but meet a lot of barriers, don’t let that knock you down, ‘just keep swimming’ don’t lose your passion or hope.”