Cancer information nurses: Help our nurses support patients and their families

Last updated: 08/09/2015

What’s this project about?

Martin Ledwick heads up Cancer Research UK’s team of dedicated and professional Cancer Information Nurses. These Cancer Information Nurses provide a confidential service for anyone who is concerned about cancer.

Sadly, cancer affects one in three people at some point in their life. This service provides answers and information for thousands of people.

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A day in the life of a cancer information nurse

Our cancer information nurses are an extremely busy team and we thought you might like to get to know them a bit better to understand how important their role is here at
Cancer Research UK.

Open QuoteIn a typical day we will answer questions about all aspects of cancer and its treatment.

One minute we’ll be helping someone decide whether to go to the doctor with a worrying symptom and the next we might be talking though the side effects of chemotherapy with someone about to start treatment. We get asked about everything and anything to do with cancer.

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This morning I started on the phone service at 9am, the phones were ringing straight away and my first call was from a woman with an abnormal cervical smear test result. She was very distressed as she thought the result meant she had cancer. I reassured her that the smear test is designed to pick up changes before they develop into cancer and that it was really important for her to go back to the clinic.

We spoke for 35 minutes, but surprisingly the average length of a call is just nine. We’re skilled at helping people to focus on the questions important to them, but will always give our callers as long as they need.

In all, I spoke to 12 people this morning. The calls included helping someone to understand the side effects of their treatment, another with questions about support for a relative returning home from hospital and another from a lady who had finished her treatment and needed to work out what it all meant. Up to that point she had been so focussed on getting through, that it was only now that it was beginning to sink in and she desperately needed to talk about it.

But the call that made the biggest impact was from a man who wanted to get an idea about what the outlook might be for him now that his cancer had returned. Calls like this can be very hard, but we always try to be as honest as we can.

After lunch I spent the rest of the day working through email enquiries, around 30% of our enquiries come in this way. We also answer questions on the “Ask the Nurse” topic area of our forum Cancer Chat and get asked to do “Ask the Cancer Research UK nurse” sessions on other Facebook pages and forums. Most recently we did a live session on the Woman’s Own’s Facebook page which went really well.

Tomorrow I am on a study day at the Royal Marsden Hospital. It’s important for us to keep our knowledge up to date so that we can answer the huge range of questions that come through to us.

Every day is a new challenge. While it can sometimes be heartbreaking, I feel privileged
to be able to help people who are going through one of the hardest experiences of their lives.Closing Quote

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What does this service offer?

Every two minutes someone is diagnosed with cancer in the UK. Cancer can be difficult to understand and coping can be stressful. Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Information Nurses answer phone and email enquiries from the general public.

The nurses respond to over ten thousand enquiries each year. They answer questions on just about everything to do with cancer and its treatment. This can range from providing advice on how to reduce cancer risk, information about treatment and living with cancer, to giving honest and empathetic information regarding end of life care.

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Many of the people who use the service are relatives and friends of cancer patients and the nurse team provide an invaluable service for this group. Often relatives and carers find it very difficult to get their questions answered anywhere else. When people are supporting someone they love with cancer, and dealing with their own fears and questions, having an anonymous phone and email service is invaluable.

Meet the people behind the service

The Cancer Information Nurse service is manned by experienced cancer nurses. They have years of experience of caring for people affected by cancer, so know about the medical aspects of cancer and its treatment are very familiar with the kinds of problems people have and how they feel. All the nurses have ongoing education and training to make sure they keep right up to date

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The difference you can make

The nurses pride themselves on answering questions sensitively and honestly. They consider it a real privilege to be able to help people so directly.

Please help us raise £220,000 to help fund our team of Cancer Information Nurses for 6 months.

Meet Deborah

Photo of Deborah who was diagnosed with breast cancerDeborah was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago and has found the nurses "worth their weight in gold".

Find out more about her experience and why she thinks so highly of the service the nurses provide in the project video.

Contact the nurses

If you have questions about cancer, you can contact our nurses between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday on Freephone 0808 800 4040.