Talk by Meriel Fishwick, CEO of the Devon cancer charity FORCE
In March Exeter Branch welcomed Meriel Fishwick, Chief Executive of Devon-based cancer charity FORCE, to our meeting on Zoom. This charity works throughout Devon, providing support to people who have a diagnosis of cancer, normally relying on personal contact and individual one-to-one counselling, therapy, massage, exercise classes, craft groups, outreach services and so on. Meriel’s presentation focused on the significant impact that the pandemic has had on the work of this charity over the past two years.
Those with a cancer diagnosis face a double whammy as immuno-suppressed people are in particular danger from coronavirus, so it took a great deal of creativity to continue to make support accessible. However, Meriel explained, some services were made available on line within one week of lockdown – not the same as their usual ‘hands-on’ approach, but individual contact and discussion was still possible at a time when so many were in need of help. For example, consultants were offered the opportunity to speak on-line or by telephone with their patients at the FORCE centre which is located in a quiet spot on the Wonford Hospital site. Staff at FORCE all had to work from home during lockdown and for some this meant learning new skills.
What did FORCE as an organisation learn from these major challenges? Meriel reported that many team members benefited from new skills and stayed with FORCE instead of looking for other jobs; some complementary therapists for example became Zoom trainees and are still ready to return to their initial role when times permit. Also, by increasing its presence on-line FORCE was able to reach some people it had not been in touch with before – mainly younger people who are used to using on-line services.
Today, as the pandemic eases, FORCE uses a mix of some face-to-face meetings, together with telephone calls and Zoom. It is important to make a personal link first, wherever possible, said Meriel, and to follow this by creating opportunities for peer support and for friendships to develop. There are many challenges remaining, as FORCE seeks to continue to support research into cancer, to resume its outreach services to rural towns in Devon, to address the psychological and other needs of people who have waited a long time for a diagnosis due to the pandemic, and to support those young cancer patients who have become particularly anxious during lockdown.
Funding is now a huge issue as, without fundraising for so long, the deficit is growing, and hope is pinned on a National Lottery bid – for which we wished them success. We thanked Meriel for her wide-ranging talk and were glad to make a donation to FORCE (Friends of the Oncology and Radiotherapy Centre in Exeter).