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How a pioneering Macmillan nurse is 'bringing normality back' into people's lives

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Macmillan nurse, Lorraine Barton, talks about why walking 120 miles in the Sahara desert was worth it to raise money for a centre that helps cancer survivors achieve their goals

Lorraine Barton

When her colleague suggested they do “one of those Macmillan fundraising things” to raise money for a new cancer centre, Lorraine Barton, Macmillan cancer information manager at the Hillingdon Hospitals Trust, said yes. But she had no idea that this would be the first step on what became a 120-mile walk through the Sahara desert. Soon there was no turning back.

“We spent a year fundraising and training to the point where we could walk 30 miles a day,” Ms Barton recalls. “It was a really hard year but an amazing and emotional experience.”

The £23,000 that Ms Barton and four of her colleagues raised helped fund the Hillingdon Macmillan Cancer Centre, which she now runs with a team of 12 volunteers.

Being able to offer holistic care to patients and their families is important to Ms Barton. When she was 11, her own mum was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.

“Back then there was an attitude of ‘cut out the cancer and be grateful that you’re alive’ so a lot of mastectomies were performed, which can be incredibly traumatic,” says Ms Barton. “As the daughter of someone with breast cancer, and as a woman myself, I feel this is an incredibly important area of care.”

Ms Barton’s career has taken many turns but she found herself drawn to the care of patients with cancer and has been a Macmillan nurse since 2001, which she describes as a real “I’ve made it” moment.

“I feel Macmillan is the pinnacle of cancer nursing and I’m so proud; I love saying to people ‘this is what I am, this is what I do’.”

“I feel Macmillan is the pinnacle of cancer nursing and I’m so proud”

Although she didn’t set out to work in oncology because of her mum, Ms Barton’s experience has given her a unique insight into how far cancer treatment has come and she advocates the benefits of allowing people to not be defined by their illness.

One of the ways the centre does this is with a gardening group every second Sunday of the month. “Lots of people come down - patients, their families. Nobody asks if someone has cancer, everyone just pitches up. It’s a great way of giving people their confidence back.”

It’s no secret that keeping active aids recovery, but a lack of motivation and opportunity can sometimes mean people don’t achieve their goals. This is why Ms Barton and her team developed Exercise on Prescription with the local council, a programme that has been so successful it won a Macmillan award in 2012.

“Although we always tell patients they should be more active, it’s nice for doctors and clinical nurse specialists to be able to actually offer something,” explains Ms Barton.

“The centre makes every effort to ensure there is something to keep everyone motivated”

From the first assessment, the team starts to create a programme for that individual patient around activities they enjoy, while taking into account their own fears and limitations.

“Realistically we know the cancer survivors who come to us will be tired and just getting their lives back together after treatment,” Ms Barton explains. “If they do drop out, the physical needs assessor will keep in touch and when they are ready to come back to it he will facilitate it.”

From a walking group, to golf lessons, to the ‘Knit and Natter’ knitting group, the centre makes every effort to ensure there is something to keep everyone motivated, and central to this is the social aspect of the activities.

Ms Barton and her team’s inspiring work not only boosts activity among cancer survivors and creates obvious physical benefits. Perhaps most importantly, it also brings normality back into people’s lives.

Fran Entwistle

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