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Facing cancer together

Special Interest Programme / Partner story

Image © Cancer Support Switzerland

When Hanadi was diagnosed with cancer, her fear and panic were compounded because she knew she would go through treatment away from her home country. Through Cancer Support Switzerland, she found a supportive community that helped to alleviate her fears.

“The community offered me a lot of affection and intimacy,” she says. “I knew I was allowed to be scared, to be myself, to share my worries, and to talk about how difficult it is for me as a foreigner to experience this.”

Cancer Support Switzerland works to ensure that no-one experiencing cancer in Switzerland faces it alone. It provides free emotional support, practical help, wellbeing activities, and a welcoming community, in English, which is the first or second language for many people living in Switzerland. Whether being warmly welcomed into the Geneva drop-in centre, accessing services across the country, or finding support online, everyone affected by cancer in Switzerland has somewhere to turn.

“When someone receives a cancer diagnosis it affects their whole life,” says director Elina Viitaniemi. “Shockwaves ripple through it all, from your social to your work life – it has emotional, practical, and physical consequences. Our work is to support people through all of that.”

Cancer Support Switzerland provides emotional support to people with a cancer diagnosis at every stage of their illness, as well as to their loved ones and caregivers. It gives counselling and mindfulness sessions to help people navigate their feelings around diagnosis or bereavement, while activities like art therapy and gardening provide hands-on ways to explore these emotions. Since 2022, it has provided a new coaching service designed to offer advice on the stress and uncertainties that cancer brings to people’s professional lives. “It’s about being held as an individual, but also as a couple or as a family,” says Christian Holyoak, counselling and support services manager.

Instructors trained in working with cancer patients run yoga and pilates classes in-person and online, and regular Walk’nTalk groups give everyone in the community a chance to build their fitness and make new friends. Both the wellbeing activities and the emotional support help reduce the chances of relapse or recurrence of cancer.

For people like Hanadi who are far from family, it can be difficult to get help with day-to-day activities, or navigate the medical system and available services. Cancer Support Switzerland is always on hand with practical advice through its telephone helpline, a library of resources at its centre in Geneva, and online support groups.

At the heart of all this work is a compassionate, caring group of peer support volunteers, who have either experienced cancer themselves or been affected by a loved one’s diagnosis. They help out with something practical – like walking the dog or picking up groceries – or they are simply there to listen. “They provide support with a real human touch, coming from their heart, for people who come to us in their time of need,” says Elina. “When you walk through our doors you can really feel the love and the community and care that we provide for people who are affected by cancer.”

This grant falls under Oak Foundation’s Special Interest Programme, which covers a wide range of fields, including environment, health, humanitarian relief, education, and the arts. You can find out more about the programme and its strategy by clicking here. To find out more about Cancer Support Switzerland visit their website or watch the video below: