A CANCER charity has warned of a looming loneliness epidemic as it emerged that around 1,400 sufferers in Swindon and more than 5,000 in total in Wiltshire were left feeling isolated and in the worst cases unable to feed themselves properly.
The figure is set to double by 2030, impacting further on patients’ physical and mental health, according to Macmillan Cancer Support.
New research conducted by Ipsos MORI showed that out of the 6,200 people living with cancer in Swindon, an alarming 1,364, or 22 per cent, were feeling forsaken and lonely.
In Wiltshire, 3,696 of 16,800 patients, or 22 per cent, were found to be lonesome.
People affected by life-threatening illnesses who are most likely to feel lonely include those with cancer that is advanced, has spread or relapsed, those living alone, and those who have made a change to their working life.
Now in remission, Tracey Kidman-Pepper, above, of Marlborough Road, experienced isolation and confusion following her breast cancer diagnosis in 2008.
Aggressive treatment and invasive chemotherapy led her to lose her hair, branding her as a cancer sufferer for the entire world to see and making her feel inadequate and different.
“What is under-estimated is the mental journey,” she said. “People look at cancer as something physical but it’s more mental than anything.
“You have got to deal with the fact that your body is creating this cancer. As you go through chemotherapy, you lose your hair, and when you go out and about people look at you and give you this sad expression.
“When I went through it I didn’t want anybody to know and only told a few close friends and family. I didn’t want people looking at me like I was different.”
The fact that very few were able to fully comprehend the conflicting emotions patients like her went through, even doctors, fostered feelings of isolation.
“There is so much still unknown about why it happens,” added Tracey.
“And it makes you feel kind of lost. Nobody on earth can tell you what is going on in your body and I think that’s part of it.
“You’ve got so many questions and nobody can answer them. It’s a confusing experience. And even the doctors and nurses you see have never gone through it themselves.
“You have to formulate your own answers and it’s a long process.”
Lonely cancer patients are three times more likely to drink more alcohol than they usually do according to the survey, almost five times more likely to have not left the house for days, and nearly three times more likely to have problems sleeping.
For many, their diet also suffers. They are five times more likely to skip meals and nearly eight times more likely to have a poor diet.
Ciarán Devane, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “This is a growing problem which is only set to get worse as the number of people diagnosed with cancer doubles from two to four million in the next 20 years.
“Macmillan provides a range of services – including a support line and an online community. But we simply can’t help everyone who needs us now, let alone those who will need us in the future so we need more public donations and support.
“We urgently need the NHS, policy makers and local authorities to wake up to this looming loneliness epidemic and work with us to provide these vital services to ensure no one faces cancer alone.”
For cancer support call Macmillan on 0808 8080000 or visit www.macmillan.org.uk