The Cavendish way

Cavendish Cancer Care: physio Sharon Levett working with Amy Shaw
Cavendish Cancer Care: physio Sharon Levett working with Amy Shaw

IN 2011, Cavendish Cancer Care is very much a part of the local cancer support service.

Therapists from the centre work at the city’s hospitals, consultants and nurses readily refer patients to the centre in Broomhall and local firms from Irwin Mitchell solicitors to Sheffield United support the Cavendish Cancer Care charity.

Cavendish Cancer Care: David Simons (founder president) and Jennifer Dickinson (meeter and greeter)

Cavendish Cancer Care: David Simons (founder president) and Jennifer Dickinson (meeter and greeter)

1n 1990, however, when David Simons was mooting the idea of a centre where reputable complementary therapists could be brought together to offer support to families affected by cancer, he remembers the common response from many parts of the medical establishment.

“They would say: ‘Who’s this bloody dentist?’”

David had been using hypnotherapy to help dental patients feel less anxious and he was increasingly being asked to help patients with cancer too.

He decided to retire from dentistry to set up the Cavendish Centre, which took its name from one of its earliest supporters, the Duke of Devonshire.

“I was originally working with patients one to one but I was out on a limb. You could do a lot but I realised that people need what we call an umbrella of care.

“At that time there was no guide to the quality of other therapies and people were concerned over their quality. The standards of hospitals like Weston Park are ultimate, so we also have to have ultimate standards.”

In the 1990s professionals working with cancer patients were often suspicious of complementary therapies.

One doctor told David: “We can do it ourselves. If I smile at a patient that makes them feel better, doesn’t it?”

The answer to such suspicions was to ensure that the new centre could stand alongside and complement the work of the hospitals and hospices. “We knew we would stand or fall by the quality of the people working here,” says David.

So all therapists have to have recognised professional qualifications, and to clearly offer complementary and not ‘alternative’ therapies: therapies that are designed to help patients feel better able to cope with the often debilitating effects of cancer and its treatment, to help them and their families relax and to try to reduce their stress. But crucially, not to suggest that such therapies offer an alternative to conventional treatments.

Over the years, the centre has had to deal with the effects of outlandish claims for some therapies, from cancer patients who felt they had to make their own separate meals away from their families to people who tried to get through 30 vitamin tablets a day.

The Cavendish was helped by Sheffield University to produce a system of monitoring the effects of its work, which has now become a nationally recognised outcome monitoring scheme for well-being. And a new generation of doctors are now recognising the benefits of professional complementary therapies, says Cavendish ‘meeter and greeter’ Jennifer Dickinson, who’s been with the charity for 15 years.

“When I started there were still dinosaurs out there who thought we wore cheesecloth and swung incense but now new doctors believe in the holistic approach, and are interested in anything that helps their patients. There has been a real sea change and we now work hand in hand with conventional medicine.”

All of which has meant that after 20 years, the medical view of the best complementary therapies has shifted from ‘they can’t do any harm’ to ‘they really can help.’

In the early days, says Jennifer, the vast majority of visitors were women from S10, 11 and 17. But now people come from all over the city and the centre caters for all ages from children to the elderly, including children who have a parent with cancer and carers of cancer patients.

A lot more men are now coming to the Cavendish, she adds, as complementary therapies ranging from acupuncture to reflexology and shiatsu have become more widely accepted.

“They just know what you’re going through and they know how to treat you here,” says Amy Shaw, a 23-year-old who was diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago and has since taken part in massage and reiki therapies and physiotherapy at the Cavendish. “Outside, people would say: ‘Oh, you’re so young!’ but you don’t want to hear that – I know I’m young!”

Amy’s treatment meant that massage and physiotherapy were particularly useful. The Cavendish procedure works by starting with an hour-long talk with an assessor, who helps the patient work out what their main concerns are and how the therapists can help.

“You get so much horrible information and you need to get away from being stressed for a bit,” says Amy.

“You need that when you have cancer, when there are lots of people worrying about you and you’re worrying about them, it’s crazy!”

The centre relies on donations to keep going at a cost of around £500,000 a year with only a small subsidy from the NHS.

David Simons believes the service actually saves a lot of time for doctors, by providing a trained person to listen and help the patients with all their stress and emotional problems.

“The patients are the proof of our service,” says Sally Eustace, from the Cavendish fundraising team. “People say they walk in with their life crumbling around them and walk out a different person.”