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Coaching people affected by Cancer

We know that a diagnosis of and treatment for cancer can affect people at levels over and above their physical health and well-being.  Making the transition back to the ‘well world’ post cancer treatment is often a very difficult and sometimes confusing period.  Friends, family and colleagues may expect ‘back to normal’ – yet there is often a ‘new normal’ to adjust to.

By 2030 there are likely to be around 3 million cancer survivors in England.  ‘Survivor’ is the term most commonly used by the NHS to describe people who are living with and beyond cancer.  These people may have had treatments and be symptom free; they may be having on-going treatment for cancer and the impact of cancer or living with advanced disease.

Most of us as coaches will have our own experience and beliefs about cancer – either directly, via family or friends.  We will often be working with coaching clients who may also be directly or indirectly affected by cancer. These may be clients who come for coaching following treatment or who may be our regular executive coaching clients who are also responding to the impact of cancer.

In our own practice of working in both areas we have noticed how it impacts.

We believe we have developed good experience and expertise in working with people affected by cancer, to support them in taking an active and leading role in their recovery, rehabilitation or on-going care and to find a place for this experience.

We have observed that the impact of diagnosis and treatment of cancer may include:

  • loss of confidence and increased vulnerability
  • low self-esteem
  • anxiety and questions about the future
  • feeling out of control
  • financial issues
  • family or relationship problems
  • challenged beliefs and expectations about work and future plans
  • problems returning to work, finding new work, dealing with early retirement
  • on-going physical problems – fatigue, poor concentration, memory issues
  • disabilities resulting from surgery or other treatment

Many of the above feature in coaching involving transition – so what else might need attention when we coach people affected by cancer or when we supervise coaches working in this arena?

In our work with clients we have noticed the importance of our capacity to:

  • work with hope and realism; helping clients create visions for the future at the same time as noticing the next step for today or next week
  • listen, listen and listen again to the story as it unfolds; as clients emerge from the shock and need to acknowledge what has happened (and may need to be witnessed in doing this
  • listen to and work with their existential concerns – what is the meaning and purpose of my life now?
  • be flexible and respond to changing physical capacities – perhaps offering shorter or phone-based sessions (to avoid travel).

And in our supervision work with coaches working with clients affected by cancer, we are alert to:

  • a need for a high level of support and some education
  • the feelings that may be triggered for the coach (e.g. feelings of helplessness; wanting to rescue the client)
  • potential for avoidance of ‘difficult’ conversations
  • our own relationship with cancer and life-threatening illness
  • our own existential questions (e.g. the meaning & purpose of our lives)

These are our experiences and we would welcome hearing more about yours.

We are also offering on-going supervision or a ‘one-off’ consultation session for coaches working with people affected by cancer.

Caroline Doherty and Fay Young

For further information about any aspect of this work, please contact Caroline or Fay:

Email:  caroline@carolinedoherty.co.uk Tel: 07970 968495

Email: fay@fayyoung.co.uk  Tel: 07770 970882

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