Despite the major impact of Covid, bosses at the Maggie’s centre in Aberdeen say the cancer support service is defying the odds to be “bigger and better” than ever.
Staff at the charity’s north-east base had to completely change their ways of working during the pandemic – but the future now is even brighter than before.
The centre had been “thriving” with a wide range of face-to-face offerings to help people facing a cancer diagnosis, but this was brought to an abrupt end when coronavirus swept the country and strict lockdown measures were imposed.
This meant Maggie’s had to “quickly adapt” to working online, using Zoom, a platform the Aberdeen centre head, Kevin Mathieson, had never even heard of before.
“For most of 2020, all our work was online and by phone,” he said.
“Not seeing people face to face was a struggle for us and the people coming to the centre.
“Although we weren’t seeing anyone, there were still people asking if they could come in.
“As soon as we could, we started with booked appointments and either an individual or couple were able to safely see someone face to face.”
‘Anxiety going out among crowds’
In addition to battling cancer without the comfort of in-person support, patients also had the worry of potentially catching coronavirus whilst going for treatment.
“Cancer patients live with uncertainty quite a lot anyway, but we saw a lot of anxiety (during the pandemic) especially with those who were told to shield,” Kevin said.
“It does raise anxiety when they are going out among crowds and things like that.
“We’re working with them on how to live with that anxiety and how they can look after themselves mentally.”
‘Huge feelings of isolation’
But as restrictions slowly eased, eventually more and more people could return to Maggie’s Aberdeen.
Kevin says there is a wide range of lessons they’ve learned during the pandemic, including seeing just how important the inclusion of face-to-face contact can be.
“There were huge feelings of isolation,” he said.
“When they went into hospital for their treatment, they never got the chance to have a chat with people in the waiting room.
“There are always feelings of isolation with a cancer diagnosis, but I spoke to people who literally felt like they were the only person in the world going through it.
“Going forward, being able to facilitate that peer support among people with similar cancers is a huge thing and maybe I took that for granted a little bit.”
‘Outreach is getting bigger and better’
Additionally, Aberdonians aren’t the only people Maggie’s is able to help, and the pandemic helped them to reach those in the North Isles.
Kevin added: “We always used to rely on people when they came down from the islands for an appointment to speak to them or we’d try to do it over the phone.
“Now, we can have individual appointments on Zoom, so our outreach is getting bigger and better. That’s been one positive.”
Whilst Orcadians and Shetlanders were able to phone Maggie’s, Kevin realised that the use of video-calling is more effective.
“Zoom is a bit more personal than just speaking on the phone,” he added.
“We’ve always had quite a strong contingent of Shetlanders and Orcadians coming down to spend the day with us.
“It’s nice to be in touch with them on a more regular basis when they’re up at home and we’re down here.”
More information can be found about the charity at maggies.org