We hear you - and we’re here to help

02 October 2019 | West and South West England

Melissa Whitely

Unique charity offers free counselling and support to all cancer sufferers and their loved ones

Melissa Whitely is looking forward to a bright future as she prepares to start a new job working with children.

But just a year ago, things were very different for the single mum.

Melissa was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2018, and she did not know where to turn.

With little family close by, and seven-year-old Marlon to look after, she knew she would need support, but was not sure where it would come from.

That was when she was introduced to WHY (We Hear You), an inspirational charity for cancer sufferers and their families.

The organisation offers free, professional counselling to help people through what can often be an overwhelming experience.

WHY holds adult counselling at ten venues across Somerset, Bath & North East Somerset and Wiltshire. They also have specially trained counsellors for children and young people who offer the service in local schools and also at the WHY offices in Frome, Bath, Street and Yeovil.

Melissa joined one of WHY’s group sessions as she prepared to undergo radiotherapy.

Her group of five would meet weekly for two hours and just talk.

“Having the group while going through radiotherapy was really helpful,” she says.  “I found little things would get to me, like having to go into these strange cubicles while having the radiotherapy. But I could share these niggles with the group, and they would understand and not judge. In fact we had quite a good black humour about a lot of the things we were going through.”

That humour is in evidence when Melissa jokingly describes the sessions as like being in a hot tub.

“We always used to joke about it, that we were entering or leaving the hot tub, because it was the one place we felt warm, bubbly and comforted,” she says. “It made us laugh. And when you are diagnosed with cancer, laughing is definitely a therapy.”

Melissa, who is now cancer-free, and starting her new job in September working with children with additional needs, adds: “When I got the diagnosis, my life entered a different landscape. But it was really valuable to be able to express all my thoughts and feelings and not shut them down.”

WHY was started by a breast cancer sufferer 25 years ago.  Director Melissa Hillier says: “The founder had breast cancer herself. She found there was a lack of emotional and psychological support out there. She started out offering the service to those with breast cancer but it now supports all cancer patients and their families. “

Evidence shows that 45% of patients said that the psychological impact was harder to deal with than the actual treatment.

WHY also introduced a new online counselling service last year thanks to support from TSB after they were chosen as a TSB Local Community Fund winner.

“That is particularly helpful where someone either has transport difficulties, is feeling too ill to travel, or has caring responsibilities at home. As people become more familiar with using their computer to communicate remotely, this service is increasingly in demand.”

A new service currently being piloted is called WHY Outdoors, an outdoor therapeutic group aimed at men. The charity found that men found it easier to open up while being active and in nature.

“We are here for people who have just been diagnosed, who are going through treatment as well as those who are living with and beyond cancer.  We also support those who have been left bereaved. Across any one year we support over 500 people. And the number of referrals have increased by 25% this year already. Over the last four years we have doubled the amount of counselling services that we can offer.  But the main core of what we offer is free one-to-one sessions with a trained counsellor.”