Buddies to rely on in taxing times

A year ago Ally Henshaw set up a support scheme for cancer patients. Now she has 54 volunteers. Catherine Scott reports.

Ally Henshaw

Humour has been an important part of Ally Henshaw’s battle with cancer.

Now, six year after she was diagnosed and having received the all clear Ally is helping other people cope with the devastating condition.

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“For me having a sense of humour was really important, I have three sons who were 21 and 12 (I have twins) at the time and I felt it was important that we could laugh at what was happening to me. Although my then husband couldn’t deal with it. He 
didn’t want people to see 
my bald head but the boys would wind him up and whip off my headscarf when we were out.

“I felt it was important that it was something we could all have a laugh about together, and stop it being something people couldn’t talk about.”

It was Ally’s experience with breast cancer which led to her setting up Cancer Buddies in 2014.

“I was lucky in that I was being monitored closely as 
my mum had breast cancer 
30 years earlier,” explains 
Ally.

“Even then it was a grade 2 cancer and had spread to my lymph nodes. The doctors said if I had waited until 
there was lump it might have been two years, and too late for me.

“Atlhought my mum had had breast cancer,there was no one else I could talk to about what I was going through such as my treatment, loss of hair and things like that,” says Ally, 49, from Doncaster.

“The hospital were amazing at treating me physcially, but they don[‘t have time to deal with the emotional stuff that goes one.

“When I was going through my treatment and afterwards I kept being contacted by people who were going through cancer and they said it really helped them.”

She even took one lady with her to one of her chemotherapy sessions.

“I felt it was important that she could see what it was all about so that she was prepared when she went through her treatment. She said it really helped.

“It made me realise that it wasn’t just me who needed someone to talk to and that’s when I came up with the idea of Cancer Buddies.”

Ally was working from Doncaster Council and initally offered to run the buddying service for other council workers going through cancer. But the council said they wanted her to spend two days a week expanding the service throughout Doncaster.

With a grant from 
Macmillan Cancer Support Cancer Buddies was launched aimed at giving one to one support to people going through cancer and their carers.

“It started with just me, and then we got a few more volunteers and now it has gone mad. We have 54 volunteer buddies, all but nine of then have either gone through cancer themselves, or have had a close relative with the disease.”

The difference between Cancer Buddies and other support groups is that it offers one to one support for people with cancer.

The volunteers, who normally ‘buddy’ two people, get ongoing training and support themselves.

“It can sometimes be harrowing for them and so we offer them support as well. Some people volunteer and buddy a couple of people and then take a break. It does affect people if we lose someone, but we are here to help.

“We try to match people with someone of a similar age, the same gender if possible and also a similar type of cancer. They then work out together how often they want to talk to each other it could be by phone, email or face to face, it is very much up to the two individuals.”

More than 80 people with cancer have been helped by Cancer Buddies in Doncaster in the last year, and plans are already under way to set up a similar scheme in Sheffield.

“The Cavendish Trust in Sheffield are looking an introducing a similar thing.

“I would love to see Cancer Buddies across the country.”

n npower is hosting an exclusive stand-up comedy gig in the OXO Tower in London to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support and celebrate their 11-year partnership. The event, hosted by Jenny Eclair, takes place on Tuesday May 19. For more info and your chance to win tickets go to @npowerHQ on Twitter.