A pioneering new service has been launched for people in West Dunbartonshire who are suffering from cancer.

Improving the Cancer Journey (ICJ) is an initiative between the local council and MacMillan Cancer Support.

ICJ aims to improve the lives of people who have been recently diagnosed with the illness.

There are around 3,000 people currently suffering from cancer in West Dunbartonshire.

Each newly-diagnosed patient will be given the opportunity to meet with a dedicated support worker on a one-to-one basis.

They can advise them on issues such as benefits, housing or money and employment, which are often overlooked following a cancer diagnosis.

The new programme is part of an £18 million partnership which is set to make Scotland the first country in the UK where cancer patients will be guaranteed wraparound support. The Scottish Government and Macmillan Cancer Support are investing £9 million each to ensure everyone with cancer is offered emotional, practical and financial help from a dedicated support worker.

The service, which began in April last year, was officially launched at West Dunbartonshire Council’s Church Street offices in Dumbarton last Wednesday.

During the event, the gathered audience - which included Councillor Diane Docherty, convener of housing and communities, chief executive Joyce White, and Macmillan’s Head of Service in Scotland, Janice Preston - heard from service user Lorraine Andrews about the help she had received from ICJ and how she has helped shape the service in West Dunbartonshire.

Lorraine, who is a breast cancer survivor, said: “After my diagnosis, I had a mastectomy and reconstruction, and while it was a relief the cancer was gone, that wasn’t the end of my journey. I was still very much in a lot of pain, I was suffering from extreme fatigue, I couldn’t walk far or carry anything and I needed help to do even small tasks. In addition to that, I was now starting to worry about very practical things like work and bills. I felt extremely vulnerable.

“I’m so glad I had the support of ICJ as I then had a person I knew I could phone for advice any time. It made such a difference to speak to somebody who knew what I had been through.

“With the service’s assistance, I was able to organise a blue badge for a year, which gave me a bit of freedom to get out and about again without having to walk too far, and they also helped me get a new cooker, as I struggled to open my old one due to pains in my arm as a result of the surgery.

“I was also referred for counselling, and was able to attend an exercise class and yoga. They even helped me organise a phased return to work when I didn’t feel ready to go back. All of these things reassured me, and helped me begin to get my freedom and confidence back.

“The officers at ICJ are extremely approachable and compassionate and I am so thankful to the service.”

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Councillor Diane Docherty said: “There are more than 3,000 people living with cancer in West Dunbartonshire and we expect this to grow in the next ten years.

“While it’s good news that advances in treatment mean that more people than ever are surviving, it also means that people living with cancer are living longer, often with long-term effects of treatment or other health conditions that have a huge impact on health, wellbeing and independence. Many of them don't know where to go for help coping with the non-medical effects of the illness.

“The aim of the new service is to make things easier at a time when it may feel like the world is falling apart.”

Janice Preston, Macmillan's head of services in Scotland, added: “Cancer has a huge impact on every aspect of people's lives and many patients tell us they don't know where to turn for help. This new service should make sure everyone in West Dunbartonshire with cancer has someone to call on for help, no matter what they need. We hope this service will transform cancer support in West Dunbartonshire.

“It’s thanks to the continued support from people locally, who fundraise for us and donate so generously, that we are able to fund this vital new service. With their help we are able to make a huge difference to the lives of people affected by cancer in West Dunbartonshire.”