Keeping patient support groups running online

Prostate cancer patients being cared for by Guy’s and St Thomas’ have been able to continue receiving vital support during the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to donations from our amazing supporters.

A couple posing together and smiling outside their home on the front garden
Suzie and Ted

Earlier this year, as the coronavirus outbreak worsened and the UK went into lockdown, services across Guy’s and St Thomas’ were heavily impacted. Regular appointments and support services were suspended, to help keep the spread of the virus as low as possible.

One of those affected was the Prostate Cancer Support Groups, which are usually held at the hospital to help men and their families affected by the disease. But, thanks to your donations, the groups have continued to run virtually, bringing people together in a very special way.

Ted’s story

Ted is a prostate cancer survivor. He has attended support groups for men living with the illness since 2018, which he describes as ‘tremendous’.

‘They have speakers come to cover a range of topics such as the diagnosis and what that means, what to expect from surgical procedures, the psychological effect that these things have on a family, the physical repercussions, exercise instruction – all these things which made it much easier to deal with and feel that you’re not on your own,’ he says.

‘We’ve found it very encouraging, meeting all the other people and learning from them. There are many different ways of treating prostate cancer and you hear all the different stories, and no two stories are the same. It’s sharing the experience and not being on your own with it, that’s the key.’

Ted and his wife, Suzie, who attends with him, were disappointed when they discovered that the groups at the hospital had to stop. But it wasn’t long before they were told about virtual meetings, which were able to take place thanks to donations from supporters of Guy’s and St Thomas’.

‘The virtual groups have been brilliant,’ says Ted. ‘There are cancer patients from all over and outside London, even from as far down as Folkestone and Southend, and it was sometimes hard for everyone to attend groups at the hospital. The online meetings mean anybody can join in, so nobody is left out.’
A screen shot of a video chat with 10 participants doing exercise from home
Online support group, with Ted and Suzie (middle right)

Informative and entertaining

The online groups come in a variety of forms, such as exercise sessions, relaxation and stress management sessions, pamper sessions, and COVID-19 and prostate cancer Q&As, as well as a general hang-out where members take part in quizzes.

‘It means you’re part of something which just makes you feel better,’ says Ted. ‘It’s something to look forward to. When it’s an exercise session, you look at the gallery view onscreen and everyone’s waving their arms around - I find it so funny!

‘It’s like a family, it really is. The spouses are all involved because it impacts them as well, it impacts the whole family.

‘That’s another reason the online meetings are so great, because the whole family can join in. If there was somebody who was worried about their husband dying from prostate cancer and they come into a meeting and see all the survivors on the screen, having a good time and a bit of fun and banter, it can put their minds at rest. It can make them realise that their loved one is not necessarily going to die. It’s not necessarily going to be fatal.’

A solution in the face of challenges

The sessions are organised by project coordinator Daniela Merlin and clinical nurse specialist Louisa Fleure.

Louisa says she’s seen some real benefits for patients and their families:

‘It was devastating to us and to our patients when we found we could no longer provide the support groups at the hospital due to COVID-19,’ says Louisa. ‘Our patients have been so grateful for the opportunity to stay connected and continue to receive support from their groups. Most are self-isolating so the opportunity to meet and share experiences, get support and have some fun as well has been invaluable.
‘The exercise sessions ensure that physical, as well as mental and emotional wellbeing, remain important. And the sessions we’ve run on COVID have also helped relieve some of the anxiety around the situation we find ourselves in.’

Being part of something important

It’s still unclear when support groups will be able to restart again at the hospital, but Ted hopes the online format will continue for as long as possible.

‘If the virtual meetings stopped now, I think we’d all feel a bit lost,’ he says. ‘It’s one of those essential things that takes the service for prostate cancer survivors that step forward.

‘It’s extraordinary because it’s being part of something which is very important. I suppose it’s humanity really; humanity at its most vulnerable and at its best.’

Thank you for helping to keep these vital support groups going. Please support our work to keep us all going.

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Thank you for helping to keep these vital support groups going

Please support our work to keep us all going