Little things making a big difference

As a charity, we often say small things can make a big difference to the lives of people with cancer. Some of the smaller projects funded by the charity have a real and meaningful impact on people’s quality of life, such as the pressure reducing cushions purchased by the charity for the Cancer Centre’s occupational therapy department which are making a real difference to the lives of people with rectal cancer.

Patients with rectal cancer often experience significant side effects as a result of their diagnosis and treatment. With the high dosage of radiotherapy delivered and the sensitive areas receiving treatment, patients are prone to bowel and urinary issues, skin reactions and pain. They can experience significant pain on sitting due to tumour and treatment side effects, which can impact on their ability to take part in normal day-to-day activities such as sitting for a meal or travelling in a car. Pain can be so severe that it affects their ability to tolerate and maintain attendance for cancer treatment.

Those patients who experience significant pain on sitting are often referred to the occupational therapy team, who aim to help improve skin integrity, enhance tolerance to disease and treatment, as well as improve patient experience and quality of life. Pressure reducing cushions are an important resource for the team. The cushions are made from high density foam and designed to alleviate pain and discomfort by dispersing pressure when sitting.

Nicola Evans, Lead Advanced Clinical Specialist Occupational Therapist at the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre, said:

“We have trialled a number of cushions to alleviate the symptoms experienced by rectal cancer patients and over the last year, we have had much success in the use of two cushions that are not only preferred by patients, but also demonstrate good economic value.

“However, these cushions are not available within the community district nursing teams and often patients experience significant delays in receiving one even when they are available. To help bridge this gap, we approached Friends of the Cancer Centre for funding which would allow the occupational therapy department to purchase a number of these cushions so that we could offer them to patients who are struggling with the side effects of their diagnosis and treatment.

“It might look like a simple cushion, but it has a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. We have had incredible feedback from our patients, who tell us that they have been able to comfortably sit and watch television for the first time in months. Most importantly, the cushions help us keep the person well and stable enough so that that they can continue with their treatment.”

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