For a lot of people the words “you’re in remission” is the start of the road to recovery and a break from hospitals, invasive treatments and operations. But not for everyone, as the very treatment used to cure cancer can, in some, bring on incurable side effects. Susan Cronshaw beat breast cancer 5 years ago, but from the treatment she developed lymphoedema.

Susan Cronshaw was referred to St. Margaret’s Lymphoedema Service after developing swelling and fluid-filled sacs in her arm and back. “I turned up to my first appointment and immediately felt at home. The staff and volunteers are so wonderful - from the cheerful receptionist to the Lymphoedema Nurses, nothing is too much trouble.”

Along with lymphoedema, Susan was also suffering with back problems that especially in the winter left her feeling quite isolated. “I walked in to the hospice like a little old woman - I didn’t like to go out because of the pain of just walking. I had tried all the drugs my GP had prescribed and really doubted anyone could help. I was almost accepting that this was me.”

“I met with my Lymphoedema Nurse and, along with talking through the treatment I would receive for the swelling, she suggested a course of complementary therapy treatments. I will admit I’m a sceptic, I don’t believe in anything until I’ve seen proof, so I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope.”

Susan started receiving Bowen Therapy, a therapy provided by Viv, one of a team of Complementary Therapy Volunteers in the Taunton In-patient Unit. “After just 4 sessions I was walking upright, in less pain, with greater confidence, refreshed and feeling better than I had in ages. I was amazed, after all the stress and invasive treatment, that something that was so relaxing to experience actually worked,” said Susan.

“The team then suggested a course of reflexology to continue to improve my wellbeing. Again, I wasn’t sure; I couldn’t understand how this kind of treatment could help.”

Not only was the treatment relaxing and generally improved Susan’s wellbeing, the fluid on her back actually disappeared. “I hadn’t even hoped that they would be able to reduce the size let alone get rid of the fluid. It made such a different to my posture and my confidence - I really can’t explain what a difference the treatment made.”

When you have cancer, your only thought is to survive, get through the treatment and just survive. You are so grateful to still be here you don’t realise there are side effects to treatment and cancer that can alter your life. It’s not that I’m not grateful I was cured, I just never realised how far-reaching the symptoms could be and the negative effect they could have on my quality of life.

Suzi Chester, Complementary Therapist at St. Margaret’s, said “The success Susan has seen is a great example of just how much complementary therapy can change people’s lives. Not only does it improve general wellbeing by relaxing patients, it can have a real effect on some debilitating symptoms.  Without our wonderful volunteers, dedicating their time and skills to St. Margaret’s for free, we wouldn’t be able to offer this service to Susan or our many other patients.

“Viv volunteers with us once a week and her appointment book is always full. We would love to welcome more Complementary Therapists to our team so we can offer this beneficial service to even more patients, like Susan.”

Susan said, “Along with the physiotherapy for lymphoedema, I continue to have the complementary therapies, once a week in the winter and once every two weeks in the summer, when my symptoms aren’t as acute. It keeps my back swelling at bay and helps to reduce the swelling in my arm. It’s not just the treatments, the staff and volunteers are so wonderful, they seem to know what I’m feeling before I do. The other week, Viv picked up that I wasn’t quite myself and recommended I go to the GP - she was right, my medication wasn’t quite right anymore, and if she hadn’t mentioned anything I would have gone on for weeks before noticing something was wrong.”

“I’m one of the lucky ones, there are so many other patients, whether lymphoedema or end of life patients, that could benefit from complementary therapy, but with no budget St. Margaret’s are so very reliant on volunteers and there just aren’t enough to go around everyone. I’d plea that any Complementary Therapists out there please consider volunteering - even one day a month could make such a difference.”

If you are interested in volunteering as a Complementary Therapist for St. Margaret's Hospice, please click here to find out more.