Page last updated at 00:27 GMT, Sunday, 22 February 2009

Buddying up to help beat cancer

By Jane Elliott
BBC News, Health reporter

Beryl Powell had stomach cancer
Beryl found the help invaluable

When Beryl Powell was diagnosed with stomach cancer last year, she felt alone.

Although she had a supportive and caring family and excellent medical staff, she felt she wanted something more.

She wanted to speak to someone who had been through her experiences and ask their advice on how to survive her cancer journey.

So Beryl, 68 and from the West Midlands, trawled the internet to try to find a support group specific to her condition and came across the Cancer Buddies Network (CBN).

They teamed her up with Ray Bryant, aged 61, from East Dorset, who was an e-mail support partner for her, answering her queries and telling her about his tips to survive a complete gastrectomy - removal of the stomach.

People say they know how you feel, but they don't
Ray Bryant

"I told her about all sorts of things," said Ray.

"I told her about the things you could get to help you, such as a twice-monthly B12 injection."

B12 helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells and is also needed to make DNA, the genetic material in all cells.

"My body no longer makes B12 - if I miss it I feel dreadful," said Ray.

"I also told her things such as about the food you can eat.

"Although it is different for everybody, there are certain things you cannot eat again, such as tomatoes and grapes because if they have skin you can have a major problem digesting them.

"I also told her about eating the slow release foods such as pastas. I would never have thought of having them before, now I am taking them to the office and munching away.

"People say they know how you feel, but they don't. Beryl and I did because we had the same operation."

Sharing experiences

Ray said he had gone through his cancer experience alone and so signed up for CBN to help others.

"When I went through my cancer I did not have a buddy and when I went into the operating theatre I had nobody to help or talk to about it.

"I had the support of my wife and family, but quite frankly you are really on your own," he said.

"Nobody says what is going to happen to you on the far side and quite how difficult it is going to be.

Ray Bryant
Ray acted as a cancer buddy

"The first six months are basically intolerable. You have constant diarrhoea, you shed stones literally and I had to fight back on my own.

"You are on your own and it is a whole big learning curve."

Beryl said that knowing she had Ray on the other end of cyberspace had been a real help.

"It was a relief to have Ray as a cancer buddy because he could relate to what I was going through," she said.

"Having someone there who has gone through the same thing is really helpful.

"The tips about food also helped. There are lots of things I can't eat now, and I have to have really small portions."

Beryl was so inspired by the help she received from Ray that she too has signed up as a buddy to another patient with stomach cancer.

Invaluable support

CBN was set up by Jan Rutter following her own experiences after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001.

Jan, 54, from Croydon, south London, buddied up with another woman who was being treated at the same time as her and said she wanted everybody to have the same positive experience.

"It is wonderful having family and friends, but nobody knows what it feels like unless they have been there."

Jan Rutter
Jan Rutter set up the Cancer Buddy Network

"It suddenly occurred to me though that there was nowhere out there that you could go and talk to people.

"We are now doing very well indeed and getting into lots of hospitals and are getting members from Europe, Canada and Australia."

Martin Ledwick, head of Cancer Research UK's cancer information nurses, said CBN could provide an important support.

"People with cancer can find it very helpful to talk to others who have had similar experiences so buddying programmes and support groups can be really useful."

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