A cancer patient told me she believed in angels when I helped her to keep warm

Alison Rooks leads Macmillan Cancer Support’s Energy Advice Team, who offer help to people with cancer with energy worries.

Whenever I tell people I work for a cancer charity, they immediately assume I’m a nurse. Everyone knows the terrific work nurses do, yet less well known is the fact that people with cancer need a wide range of support. You wouldn’t think it was the case but people are much more likely to call our support line about financial worries than death or dying.

In my role, I lead the energy advice team on Macmillan’s support line. This might sound like a strange role but cancer patients going through chemotherapy feel the cold. It can be a bone numbing cold that they just can’t shake, regardless of the weather outside.

A side effect of cancer treatment in itself, hair and weight loss also contribute. Combine that with spending more time at home as well as reduced income from not being able to work and managing energy bills can soon become difficult for cancer patients.

My team’s job is to support people with cancer to manage their energy bills. People can be quite panicked by the time they call us and their stories can be heart breaking. When people are already going through what can be an incredibly tough time, we want to help alleviate one of their worries so they can concentrate on their health.

There was one lady who is a single mum of two and she called us and told us how she would go to bed wearing her dressing gown and a woolly hat. She couldn’t get warm because of her cancer treatment, no matter how hard she tried.

She’d just put the heating on for couple of hours in the morning when she was getting her kids ready for school to cut down on their heating bill. She’d then turn it off and sit in her cold house alone all day. When she called us we told her to turn the heating on straight away!

We could refer this lady to npower as she was a customer and they were able to cap her fuel bills and write off her debt. One customer who has just gone onto npower’s Macmillan Fund told me it was the first time she’d had a warm night since she started treatment. Another told me she believed in angels.

Help might also be in the form of a heating grant – when the charity was set up in 1911, the twin focuses were campaigning and grants to help people with the extra costs of living with cancer. The first ever grant was for a bag of coal.

The best part of the job is when you make a difference to someone who is affected by cancer but the worst part is when you can’t help. People can be shocked at how a cancer diagnosis can impact so many aspects of their life. Specifically, money worries aren’t something people automatically associate with having cancer. My team of energy advisers do whatever they can to help people with cancer keep warm without the worry.

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