Karen seeks mental health support for cancer patients

woman walking on pathway during daytime
Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

WHEN Karen Sheahan from Castletroy was diagnosed with cervical cancer ten years ago, she had been previously tested for practically everything but that insidious disease.

Suffering symptoms for two years when she was 22 and 23, she was too young to be included in the national screening programme.

And when she needed treatment, there was no mental health support offered to her on what was often a fearsome journey.

Fortunately, Keren will celebrate ten years free of cancer this December and she is marking that milestone by joining the Irish Cancer Society’s advocate group in campaigning for emotional and mental support to be available for patients at every stage of the disease.

“Cancer changes you and there are consequences which may affect you for the rest of your life, as it has me,” she told the Limerick Post.

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Karen, who works in the University of Limerick, says her experience is what prompted her to take up a study in which she is now doing a Master Degree course in counselling and psychotherapy.

“At no stage was I offered counselling support. I had to seek it out and pay for it myself but people who are undergoing treatment often can’t work and can’t afford €60 a week for counselling sessions.

“There is a fantastic facility in University Hospital, the Daffodil Clinic but it only operates from nine to five Monday to Friday so it can be very hard for people to avail of it.”

Karen was tested after being alerted by the death of Big Brother celebrity, Jade Goodey, who passed away as a result of late diagnosed cervical cancer.

“Reading about her prompted me to look up the symptoms and request a test,” said Karen.

“There’s a fear of talking about it. It’s almost a taboo subject, especially cervical cancer.

“I decided to become an advocate to encourage people to speak out and to have mental health supports put in place, supports that people are offered rather than having to go looking for.

“The consultants are there to cure the cancer and they are fantastic but there is a bigger picture about how it affects a person’s life and well-being. Positive mental health and support to have that is important too.”

The Irish Cancer Society’s Advocacy Network encourages cancer patients, survivors, their families and caregivers to support campaigns  such as reversing the underinvestment in cancer care, and the urgent need for additional supports for cancer patients, including mental health support.