Cancer groups thrives on the positive

FOR some, the psychological torment caused by the diagnosis of cancer is as destructive as the physical deterioration. The struggle of living with an incurable illness can leave people feeling isolated, frightened and often depressed.

FOR some, the psychological torment caused by the diagnosis of cancer is as destructive as the physical deterioration. The struggle of living with an incurable illness can leave people feeling isolated, frightened and often depressed. But for the past five years, sufferers in Ipswich coping with the burden of cancer - and those closest to them - have been offered help, friendship and plenty of humour. JOSH WARWICK reports.

STATISTICS reveal that around one in three of us will be affected by cancer in someway during our lifetime. But despite the frequency of one of the world's biggest killers, the 'c' word has a stigma attached which it has never shaken off.

For John - whose real name has been changed to hide his identity - cancer was something he never thought he would have to deal with. But six years ago, his world felt like it had collapsed when doctors diagnosed him with prostate cancer.

Today, as he continues to battle with his condition, many of those around John still don't know he has the disease, after he opted to keep his illness to himself.

Instead, he found sanctuary at Ipswich Cancer Aid Network (ICAN) where he is surrounded by others in the same situation.

“I decided to hide my illness,” he said. “Some of my relations know but friends are unaware of it.

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“When you mention the word cancer, people often take a step back and they don't know how to treat you. I used to have the same attitude myself. If I met someone with cancer I used to think, 'what a poor old soul' and I wouldn't know how to react.

“I have found that if people don't know about me, it's just easier.

“But this is a place where you can talk freely because most of us are faced with the same problems. That's what the group is for - everyone here has this same attitude, they are all willing to help people.

“It was my daughter who persuaded me to come and I was naturally uncertain at first, but having met everyone just once, you can't sing the group's praises enough.”

ICAN is the only organisation which offers support to sufferers of any type of cancer, meeting on the first and third Friday of the month in St John's Church Hall, Britannia Road.

It boasts around 40 members in all, some of whom can't make every meeting because of the impact of their treatment.

The reputation of support groups such as ICAN is perhaps tarnished by the stereotypical perception of what they are about.

Tears and a feeling of hopelessness is sometimes the image pictured, especially when portrayed as such in Hollywood blockbusters like Fight Club, where Helena Bonham-Carter and Edward Norton revelled in support group misery.

But it is the sound of laughter, cheerful chatter and banter which fills the hall at ICAN. Perhaps it is the group's acronym - I CAN - which is the best way to describe its ethos.

Gilly Cooper, ICAN chairman, has been involved from the start.

“I think people find friendship and support here, support they can't get elsewhere. It comes from people who are going through the same thing.

“This is the only group of its kind which supports people with any kind of cancer. It's very much a network. It's not just about the meetings, people are always available to contact by phone.”

While ICAN's members are mostly cancer sufferers, many are not. Instead, they have been affected in some way by the disease and either want to support a loved one or seek guidance for the issues they face themselves.

Ron Cotton joined ICAN with his wife Gwen 18 months ago. Sadly, Gwen passed away in June last year, but Ron is still a committed member.

He said: “I think Gwen found coming here helpful. She found several friends and it was a place where she could speak to other people in a similar situation.

“I have also made a lot of friends from coming here. It's a place for people to help each other out, to talk about things.

“Cancer seems like a dirty word to some people, but it's a fact of life.”

Avril Varley has been an active member of ICAN for three years. She has ovarian cancer which her doctors have told her can not be treated.

“People think you are brave but you are not brave when you are at home,” she said. “But with the club you are not alone.

“I'm having chemo at the moment and I have been in my lounge all week whereas this morning I thought 'it's club day, I can come and meet everyone'. Being with these people really pushes you along.

“And someone else is always on the other end of the phone for a chat if you need it.”

If you would like to go along to ICAN or wish to find out more, call Jackie on 01473 716200, Grace on 01473 659361 or Keith on 01473 415585.

Top ten cancer killers in the UK

1 - Lung

2 - Bowel

3 - Breast

4 - Prostate

5 - Oesophagus

6 - Pancreas

7 - Stomach

8 - Bladder

9 - Ovary

10 - Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

Source: Marie Curie

Did you know?

There are more than 200 different types of cancer