In 2017 Sheila Kissane founded Bosom Buddies and the Living Well Courses, following her own cancer diagnosis and treatment. The Living Well courses were created to provide holistic cancer rehabilitation to help patients recover from the side effects of cancer treatment and to encourage a sense of regaining control and reduce the risks of reoccurrence.
The Effects of Cancer Treatment
Why is post cancer treatment rehabilitation needed? Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, (which can last for up to a year in most cases), targeted therapies and radiotherapy are highly toxic to the body and kill the fast dividing cells, not differentiating between healthy body tissue, cells and cancer tumours. Chemotherapy attacks hair cells, bone marrow, skin and the lining of the digestive system, all cells which are constantly renewing themselves (Cancer Research UK). The patient experiences a greatly weakened immune system, bruising, bleeding more easily, hair loss, nausea and vomiting, neuropathy (nerve pain particularly to the hands and feet), trouble breathing, rashes, severe pain, constipation and diarrhoea, cognitive impairment – brain fog, mouth sores, loss of, or blurred sight. It can also increase risks of heart damage and personality changes, depression, anxiety, chemo rage – aggression. Most patients will also have surgical needs, and generally very minimal physiotherapy is offered except in extreme cases.
A quarter of patients report that the the toughest part of the journey is once they complete treatment and are discharged from oncology care. This coincides with the brain starting to process the preceding years treatment and often leads to feelings of depression, stress and anxiety. Some patients will also develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is a common disorder associated with traumatic events such as war, serious accidents and life-threatening situations.
Patients often report feelings of abandonment as they are expected to return to their new ‘normal’ and figure it out. The large national cancer centres such as Maggie’s, The Big C. offer fantastic social facilities for patients to meet others in a similar situation.
We feel that our platform and app would be highly complementary to these existing services.
The Living Well Course
Our 12 week courses were delivered in a weekly group setting of up to twelve participants. The five key areas which we concentrated on were following a well-balanced healthy diet, and keeping weight within the recommended BMIs; exercising often (as per the ex UK Chief Medical office, Dame Sally Davies report on physical activity); keeping alcohol consumption to within safe limits; reducing stress and reducing exposure to hormone disruptive chemicals. (All using Cancer Research UK latest data).
The weekly exercise element of the course was delivered by Personal Trainers with Level 4 in Cancer care qualifications. We also provided weekly nutrition guidance talk, healthy recipes and mindfulness, provided by an online platform.
The participants of the courses have reported significantly lower levels of perceived anxiety, stress and depression. 30% of participants felt lower levels of perceived anxiety (55% Reduction), stress (41% reduction) and depression (46% reduction) after the 12 weeks
The participants also found the course enjoyable and educational, and the social media groups helped them to maintain a healthy lifestyle post the 12 weeks.