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'The most important aspect of this job is touch'

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Complementary therapist Jan Wilkinson feels touch is an essential aspect of care.

Dimbleby Cancer Care was set up in memory of Richard Dimbleby and offers care and support for cancer patients and their carers and families. Alongside a range of psychological services is a raft of complementary therapies designed to improve wellness, recovery and mood.

One of the former nurses now delivering those complementary therapies is Jan Wilkinson. As a nurse, she was always at ease with hands-on care, but as the coordinator for the complementary service of the Dimbleby Cancer Care Centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust she says it is the role that gives her the most hands-on contact with cancer patients.

“I worked as a nurse many years ago, but I decided to do a weekend course in aromatherapy, fell in love with it and then re-trained as a massage therapist, aromatherapist and reflexologist before completing my BSc (Hons) in complementary therapy.”

She works as part of a six-strong team of therapists who provide aromatherapy, reflexology, massage and a stress management programme to cancer patients and their carers. The therapy service offers integrated care as part of the oncology service. The therapists have nursing or other relevant experience and training. In addition, in line with guidance from the National Cancer Action Team, the therapists are Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) registered and work to criteria set by the South East and South West London Cancer Networks to comply with the Complementary Therapy (Safeguarding Practice) Quality Measures for Peer Review.

“We get a lot of support from the consultants because we only provide treatments that are registered with CNHC,” says Ms Wilkinson.

“Outpatients can have six one-hour appointments booked at times to suit them, while their carers can have two.”

The sessions are in a room tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the wards.

“It is important for the patients to feel like they are escaping from the hospital, and this is part of that,” says Ms Wilkinson. And she believes strongly that it works. “I saw one woman who had a wound after cancer. It had healed, but she was so anxious and self-conscious about it she couldn’t look at herself or let her husband touch her. But after the massage treatments, she felt able to be hugged by her husband again, and they regained their intimacy.”

The therapists work with ward patients, provide an outpatient service and give short sessions to patients attending for chemotherapy. One therapist is nearly always a permanent fixture in the new chemotherapy day unit at Guy’s.

The therapists also help those patients feeling anxious before chemotherapy. “One patient had had a bad reaction to a chemotherapy drug, and was very anxious about treatment. We were called in and managed to alleviate the stress for the patient, and also for the carer, who was getting very uptight too. We helped the person be relaxed enough to be cannulated and have the treatment they needed.”

The relaxation and stress management programme is devised to teach “self-help” techniques to deal with the demands of life and the fears associated with having cancer.

“Our best advocates are our patients,” she says. “They give brilliant anecdotal feedback about how the complementary therapy has made them feel.”

“The most important aspect of this job is touch,” Ms Wilkinson adds. “In Sweden they teach children in school how to massage each other. They are clothed massages but they understand the importance of healing touch. We should appreciate that too.”

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Gillian Dargan

    As an RN certified in healing touch, but more mportantly trained when touch and the art of nursing was important, it is a shame to see that we have to wait until patients are in hospice until we use are most gracious skill of 1:1 patient interaction. It has been well studied that patients who receive "touch" of a caring nurse use less pain medication and heal faster.

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