Video: See how a West End-based cancer charity helped one patient to help others

By Ian Marland at

When Fiona McLearie was diagnosed with breast cancer on Mother’s Day last year she embarked on a journey she never thought she would have to take.

Her physical treatment was swift and effective but the psychological scars proved harder to fix.

It was only when her treatment was over and she was left to fend for herself did she realise she needed help.

Watch video: Fiona McLearie is using her experience of breast cancer to help others.

Through a friend she was introduced to Cancer Support Scotland, and more than one year on she is set to use her experience to benefit others.

From being a client in need of expert therapy and counselling, Fiona, who is 55, has became a volunteer counsellor.

She is now preparing to take her desire to help others further by undertaking a cognitive behavioural therapy course in September.

It has been a difficult but personally rewarding journey for the mother-of-two from Clydebank.

Support: Fiona talking with staff at the centre in the grounds of Gartnaval Hospital.

The charity has its centre in the grounds of Gartnaval Hospital in the West of Glasgow.

Fiona said: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer on Mother’s Day 2015. I had a mastectomy and reconstruction.

“I didn’t have any chemo or radiotherapy, so in my mind I had cancer for four weeks, from diagnosis to operation.

“But because everything happened so quickly I was left after it all thinking ‘what just happened there?…this has all been a bit mad’.

“And then one day I was out for a coffee with a friend who had done the Heel Appeal for Cancer Support Scotland the year before and she said give them a call because they help people who are struggling after they have had their treatment.”

Centre: Madaline Alexander is in charge of services at the Calman Centre.

Fiona went on: “So I picked up the phone and I got six sessions of alternative therapy. I had Reiki, I had massages which made me feel really relaxed and gave me time away from the house.

“And then I was offered counselling as well which was good because I had things going on in my head which I needed to speak to people about and not just my family.

“I then embarked on a counselling course, finished that and now I am waiting to do a diploma in CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] which starts in September.”

Fiona explained how she felt in the wake of her treatment and what it was that made her seek help.

“The way that I was feeling was that every time I closed my eyes I was having this vision of me being on a train station.

“I was on a train and my whole team of consultants and breast cancer nurses were on the train with me.

Relaxing:The drop-in centre is a welcoming space for clients and their families.

“And I got off the train [when the treatment had finished] and I looked round but they [the doctors and nurses] were still on the train. And I was left on the station platform thinking where am I? What do I do now? There were no signposts.

“And then when my friend told me about this place – that was the signpost, so that’s when I came here. It was like someone literally taking you by your hand and helping you – which is what this place does.”

Madaline Alexander, services and operations manager at Cancer Support Scotland, explained how the charity can help those who are diagnosed with cancer and their families.

She said: “The charity has been going for over 30 years and we’ve been in this building for three and half years.

“A lot of people don’t realise that we are here but we are getting busier and busier.

“The services that we provide are complementary therapies, which is a mixture of Reiki, aromatherapy, massage, reflexology, relaxation, stress management, and we also have a hand and nail service.

Treatments: Complementary therapies are provided at the centre.

“All of the services that we do are very holistic, so first and foremost we make sure that they are very safe.

“And no matter what they have got [illness] they can always get something that will help them.

“We also do counselling. Free – all our services are free. People can come either on their own, or we do couple’s counselling.

“And we work with people to help them understand why they are feeling the way they are, and work through those feelings and give them techniques and coping strategies that can help them going forward.”

Madaline added: “We also offer a podiatry service which is a really wonderful service. People do not realise the impact of chemotherapy on the hands and nails.

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Map: Cancer Support Scotland is located in the grounds of Gartnaval Hospital in the West End.

Support: The charity hosts a number of fundraising appeals throughout the year that people can get involved with.

“People can be in an awful lot of pain with their toenails. Sometimes they become very, very fine and very brittle.

“Quite often they actually fall out and also the skin on the feet gets quite hard and very tender.

“So the podiatry service is an extremely valuable service and something that is very difficult now to get on the NHS.”

She said: “The centre also has an amazing drop-in, an old church that has been converted by Glasgow Preservation Trust.

“There’s always someone here who will chat to them and would give them information.”

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