Life after cancer

Jane Bovey champions a programme that aims to help survivors take control and regain their zest for life.

Jane Bovey champions a programme that aims to help survivors take control and regain their zest for life.

Jo Lee and Isabel Van de Ven encountered difficulties picking up their lives after treatment for breast cancer. They met in 2008 through life coaching classes, a powerful aid in their long-term recovery. Deciding there was a need for a specialised programme to help cancer survivors put their lives back on track, they developed LYLAC: Live Your Life after Cancer.

LYLAC is a social enterprise that seeks to address individual problems in an empowering and holistic way. It provides day workshops for people who have completed treatment and want to regain their zest for life. The workshops combine the opportunity to meet others who have had similar experiences, explore the effect of cancer on the individual’s life and use this as a starting point to rebalance that life. LYLAC can help give individuals the tools to support them through the process of personal recovery as they regain physical and mental energy. Participants learn about setting goals and creating an action plan, about becoming and staying motivated, and developing skills for living well in the moment. The workshops are also open to those who have cared for, supported and lost loved ones.

For many who have undergone life-changing diagnosis and treatment, and faced the possibility of death, there is often fear and a feeling of being unable to move forwards. In others, there may be dissatisfaction with a life previously lived and a new perspective on activities and relationships that may be unsettling. There is sometimes a perception that loved ones and friends will not understand the huge internal and psychological changes that have taken place.

The workshops provide an opportunity for self-exploration and a chance to take back control. Testimonies from attendees cite an increase in personal awareness and reduction in anxiety. The focus is on the opportunities that present after cancer rather than on the losses that occurred throughout diagnosis and treatment. The priority is to support individuals to progress by recognising personal resilience and inner strengths. There is an opportunity to reconnect and regain focus after a long period in limbo. Long-term benefits may also encourage individuals to take more control over personal health issues instead of relying on GPs and other services.

Care and support

While diagnosis and treatment of cancer is always the priority, care and support after treatment could be better. Psychological and longer-term physical effects are common, but have largely been ignored. The day workshops provide a viable and cost-effective way for individuals to manage their diverse needs and to share experiences with others.

Jo and Isabel would also like to raise employers’ awareness of LYLAC in return-to-work programmes. More help is needed for recovering employees in the workplace and to support employers in understanding the pitfalls of recovery. While occupational health care is generally good in the NHS and civil service, there may be shortfalls elsewhere.

LYLAC runs workshops for Macmillan Cancer Support in Hampshire and for Breast Cancer Care in Hampshire and Dorset. Jo and Isabel are keen to raise LYLAC’s profile with nurses and to run workshops UK-wide. They believe that oncology nurses could play a vital role in encouraging patients to reach fulfilment once treatment ends. Workshops are funded by Macmillan Cancer Support and attendance is free to all participants.

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About the author

Jane Bovey is a former registered nurse and Macmillan ambassador in Hampshire.

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