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How a course run by Macmillan Cancer Support for staff, volunteers and professionals who work with people living with cancer has changed lives.

Macmillan Cancer Support

A cancer support course, run by the charity Macmillan Cancer Support, is having a major impact lives. Run by trainer Chele Lawrence, it is designed for anyone who deals with people who are living with cancer, whether they are paid professionals, volunteers or family members. They include doctors, nurses, benefits advisers, complementary therapists, nutritionists, receptionists, fundraisers, students and many more. 

The course is divided into four units. The first is an introduction to communication skills. Units two and three cover counselling skills (including active listening) and dealing with loss and bereavement. The final unit on cancer awareness is more factual, covering how cancer develops in the body, how it is diagnosed and how it is treated. People take the course over an eight month period with each unit taking three days. There are open discussions which feed back into the portfolio of evidence and a workbook all learners have to complete to get their certificate. They also have to keep a learning journal reflecting in diary form what they’ve learned and how they’ve used it.

“The impact of the course has been immense,” says Chele. “Quite a lot of people have found it life changing, saying it was the best course they’ve ever been on. This is because it involves a great deal of self awareness or ‘active listening’ - a vital part of learning.” 

But it isn’t just health professionals that need support. The people that stand in the street rattling tins can find themselves drawn into conversations they find it hard to deal with. “Often someone will drop a coin into their box then tell them how cancer has affected them or their family,” says Chele. “By coming on our course we give them a toolbox to help them cope. This stops them just becoming a sponge soaking up often very difficult stories people spontaneously tell them.” 

The course was originally an NVQ (National Vocational Qualification), run in liaison with a college, but this proved to be too logistically cumbersome for learners. So Macmillan approached OCN London in 2015. The course was then restructured into a unit format with OCN London accreditation. The course is free to participants and paid for through fundraising. There is a very high retention rate with 97 per cent completion. Macmillan attributes this partly to a rigorous selection process - potential participants are interviewed and have to fill out forms indicating why they want to attend. 

So far around 2,000 people have taken the course which is pitched at Level 2. It is commissioned on a regional basis but delivered nationally. As the charity has ‘direct claims’ status they can quickly and easily moderate the courses internally, although OCN London sends a Centre Moderator every year to make sure the course is being delivered as specified. “This approach works well,” says Chele. “If we did another course or thought to expand our learning offer in any way we would definitely go down the OCN London route.”

People can be very nervous dealing with people given a cancer diagnosis and so they need skills on how to deal with it. The course, along with the accreditation that participants gain on completion, gives them confidence.

Chele explains: “One of our learners who helps people with telephone support said she completely altered the way she works as a result of our course. She now asks different questions but also practices active listening and gives people time to answer. What the course has done is equip learners with the skills, confidence and self esteem to help them in their various roles working with people living with cancer. It not only changes how they work but also how they view the world.” 


Chele Lawrence, Learning and Development Consultant at Lawrence Learning Solutions - Lawrence Learning Solutions. 

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