Pam's Story - Cancer Support Scotland Therapist

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Pam's Story - Cancer Support Scotland Therapist

pam.jpgMy name is Pam McNeill and I am the complementary therapist in Dennistoun Library on a Thursday. I've been volunteering in this role for 2 years.
Three years ago my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. Around the same time I had applied to go to college to study complementary therapies. I knew that I wanted to use my new skills in more a holistic setting rather than a salon or spa but was unsure of how to go about finding organisations where these kinds of opportunities were available. My mum had received some treatments at Cancer Support Scotland and raved about the therapists there so, once I was qualified, I applied for a position as a volunteer complementary therapist. 

All new therapists receive an induction about cancer and the physical, emotional and psychological effects it can have on patients. Then there is a further two day training course on complementary therapies and cancer patients where the therapists are shown how to adapt techniques to the specific needs of the cancer patient. In addition to this, each volunteer therapist is assigned a mentor at Cancer Support Scotland who you can contact with any queries or concerns. During my first few months I found this was a great support and always felt that there was someone there to help me if I was unsure of anything. Two years on I still drop my mentor an email with questions if I'm unsure about anything. I've also gained qualifications in Oncology Massage, First Aid at Work, Manual Lymphatic Drainage and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. There are also regular opportunities to attend training courses and hear talks with guest speakers at the centre.
Volunteering with Cancer Support Scotland gives me a sense of purpose and pride in my work that I never felt in any of my previous jobs.  

I got involved with the main aim to be become the best therapist that I can be - I'm not sure I'm there yet but am improving all the time I hope! At college you're taught the theory and practical side of the therapies but it's only through volunteering with Cancer Support Scotland that I've had the confidence to actually call myself a therapist. I expected volunteering to be very fulfilling and sometimes upsetting and it is - probably more than I had even expected it to be. I often find myself thinking about people after they have left the library and wonder how they are getting on.

The thing I get most from volunteering is the knowledge that every Thursday I have the opportunity to make someone feel even a tiny bit better than they did when they woke up that morning. So no matter what else happens that day, I feel I have achieved something positive.

I love giving foot massages as I think feet are neglected. I always find it quite funny when a new person comes in and is a bit squeamish about having their feet touched and then 15 minutes later they're lying back with their eyes closed, mouth open and sleeping peacefully. One gentleman confessed to me that he had been married for 35 years and did not even allow his wife to touch his feet but I somehow managed to talk him into let me working on them and he loved it!

"Because it's so informal people feel more at ease and open up"
About a year into my volunteering I met an elderly couple. The lady had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and when I saw her she was very extremely frail. She had been the carer for her husband who had a number of health issues and mobility problems. Sadly, the lady died not long after her first treatment. However, her husband began to come for complementary therapies and he confided in me that he was extremely lonely. Following his bereavement, he felt that he was losing contact with friends and family as his wife was the more outgoing and sociable of the two. He found it difficult to discuss his feelings with family and felt that he was a burden. All of these worries were causing him a great deal of anxiety and as a result he was having problems sleeping. The gentleman would often become upset during his massage but ask that I continue. It was quite a difficult situation to deal with but I felt confident that he was benefiting from the sessions as his whole demeanour would change by the end of the treatment. When our time together came to an end he thanked me for all the massage treatments and the pain relief and relaxation that they had provided. He also thanked me for giving him a safe place to cry for his wife.

I think that the library offers a familiar and relaxed environment for people affected by cancer and is in complete contrast to the clinical setting of hospital appointments. Because it's so informal people feel more at ease and open up. 
I didn't expect or appreciate just how much volunteering with Cancer Support Scotland in this role would impact on my own personal relationships. I think it's made me a more empathetic and less judgemental person. 

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