Get to know Pam a Therapist with Cancer Support Scotland and discover more about the ways Cancer Support Scotland is helping people affected by cancer everyday.
- Name: Pam McNeill
- Role with Cancer Support Scotland: Complementary Therapist
- Favourite quote: “Every time I visit Cancer Support Scotland, I leave feeling so much better & lighter, as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. This place helps me forget I have cancer and helps me feel like me again
Hi my name is Pam McNeill and I’m one of the complementary therapists with Cancer Support Scotland. I’m became a fully qualified complementary therapist 5 years ago, and employed by Cancer Support Scotland. Part of my role is now mentoring the new volunteer therapists.
How you got involved with Cancer Support Scotland?
My mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and around the same time I became aware of holistic support and complementary therapy that nurses within my family talked about. At this point 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.
I was unsure of how to find 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.
What were you first experiences of working with people with cancer?
First I attended a day at the Beatson clinic. Then on Thursdays I volunteered at the Dennistoun outreach centre, located in the library. To begin with the Dennistoun locals were a little hesitant and naturally skeptical about complementary therapy. I got talking to the people visiting and encouraged them to try a few taster sessions. Over time, word of mouth spread and resulted in increased demand for our services and a waiting list grew. In response to increased demand we’ve doubled our services from 1 day to 2 days a week.
What support and training have you received for working in your role?
All new therapists receive an induction about cancer and the physical, emotional and psychological effects it can have on patients and their loved ones. 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.
To work with people with cancer you should have a least 3 complementary therapies to be able to offer a service that is adaptable. I have 6 therapies I can offer. This means I can adapt to each person’s unique condition and offer a therapy that tailored to their specific needs on the day.
My training is ongoing and there’s always something new to learn. Whenever possible I attend talks, listen to speakers and spend time meeting with other therapists to hear new ideas. I recently gained an accreditation in ‘myofascial release therapy’ which helps release pain and tension in cancer patients. <insert link to MFR blog>
What do you interact with clients about? How do you try to make them feel when they’re working with you?
Touch is a basic human need and when providing a complementary therapy we are working within someone’s personal space. As a result, patients often talk about worries and concerns as it’s a less formal space than talking with a Counsellor.
Making people feel comfortable is important and our therapy rooms are set up to adapt for everybody. Whatever the medical procedure my client is undergoing they can sit up or lie down, on their front, on their side or remain in their wheelchair. No matter what medical procedure they are dealing with I can give them the space to relax and the body takes over.
What is something people with cancer have to deal with that you want to help fix?
Many Cancer patients are turned away from complementary therapy. I’m working to demystify the misconception that a cancer diagnosis means you can’t receive a complementary therapy.
Often the stigma of cancer is hardened by a cold response from a therapist saying “I can’t treat you as you have cancer”. I believe the onus is on the therapist to continue their professional development withj appropriate oncology massage training. Therefore a better and kinder response would be ‘I’m not trained’.
Slowly but surely therapists know more about complementary therapy for cancer patients. Education is moving in the right direction with colleges such as Clyde College is developing a complementary therapy and palliative care course.
What advice would you offer someone wanting to gift a complementary therapy to someone with cancer?
My advice would be to seek out a specialist trained in complementary therapy for cancer patients. Before you purchase a massage voucher for someone check they are qualified.
What do you like about working at Cancer Support Scotland?
The people I meet and the opportunity I have to help people is the best part. Here’s a quick story to show what a difference our services make. One day I saw an older lady who had received various cancer treatments. Several operations combined with arthritis also meant she was now struggling with her mobility. Over her 6 sessions I used a combination of lower back massages and reflexology. As she walked out of my room I asked if she had forgotten anything. She looked for her bag, her coat and her umbrella. No, she hadn’t forgotten anything. Until I pointed out she had left her walking stick. She felt so much better after her massage that she stepped out not even noticing she didn’t have her stick to support her. That’s why I love working here – we’re here to support people and offer a safe space to relax.