Four hundred Northern Ireland people who find out they have cancer every year battle the deadly disease with no support at all from family and friends, shocking new research has uncovered.
It has also been revealed that almost one in 10 of the 8,000 newly-diagnosed cancer patients – an estimated 700 people every year – lack support as they go through treatment and recovery.
The study by Macmillan Cancer Support has highlighted the devastating isolation experienced by hundreds of people as they fight for survival.
In addition to the emotional impact, the isolation experienced by cancer patients means they also struggle to carry out simple, basic tasks, such as look after their personal hygiene, prepare nutritious meals and visit their GP.
Family members and friends living too far away, having other commitments, or patients just having no one to turn to are the most common reasons patients lack support. Macmillan's Heather Monteverde said: "It's encouraging that cancer patients in Northern Ireland are significantly less likely to feel isolated than the UK average, however we don't want anyone to face cancer on their own.
"There is a lot of help out there for cancer patients from charities like Macmillan, whether it's face to face, over the phone or online, but often people don't know about it. We want all cancer patients to know there is support available and I'd urge anyone in need of help to get in touch with Macmillan."
The statistics were part of a UK-wide study looking at the level of support cancer patients have. It is the first research of its kind to be carried out.
The report found that one in six patients has lost touch with family or friends, while 80% said the financial impact of the disease means they cannot afford to see their family or friends as much.
Astonishingly, it also found that one in eight of people living with cancer has not had a single visit from friends of family in over six months. Other findings include:
• More than half (53%) of isolated patients have skipped meals or not eaten properly due to a lack of support at home.
• More than one in four (27%) have not been able to wash themselves properly.
• 60% have been unable to do household chores.
• More than one in four say they have experienced depression.
• 33% say a lack of support has caused them stress or anxiety.
More than one in three people will get cancer and for most it will be the toughest fight they face. But you don't have to go through it alone. Macmillan Cancer Support provides nurses and therapists to help patients, as well as experts on the end of the phone. For support, telephone 0808 808 00 00 between 9am to 8pm from Monday to Friday or log on to www.macmillan.org.uk
'I barely saw anyone in a whole year'
Claire Henderson (26) from Omagh said:
I was diagnosed on May 2, 2007 at 20 with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
I didn't understand what it was but when the doctor talked about chemotherapy it suddenly hit me.
I began chemo on May 9, 2007. While my friends were doing their final exams I was going through chemotherapy.
My treatment finished in October 2008. I have been left with many side-effects like tinnitus and tiredness; I've lost 10kg in the last two months because I have no appetite. I also get very, very swollen legs if I don't rest.
Just a few months ago I was diagnosed with a blood disorder which means my blood won't clot the way it should if I was injured.
The blood disorder has really knocked me off track. I'm a very outdoorsy person and loved to be active but I had to give up a lot of my activities.
It's hard because I just can't go out and do normal things that everyone else can do.
I lost touch with all my university friends because our lives went very different ways.
My other friends all live more than an hour's drive away, so it's hard to stay in touch with them.
The first 12 months of treatment I barely saw anybody or did anything because I was so ill.
I spent five weeks literally in isolation in hospital and only saw nurses and my parents, who tried to visit every day, but they lived an hour-and-a-half away from the hospital, so it was difficult.
Facebook was the only thing that kept me in contact with the outside world.
I finally graduated with a 2:1 in business and computing in June 2011. I'm not up for finding a job at the moment, though. I wouldn't have the energy to work and I'm always going back to hospital.
'I do feel isolated... it gets me down'
Ann McManus (59) from west Belfast said:
I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in November 2011. It came as a complete shock. I underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy that December which lasted for six weeks in a bid to shrink the tumour, and had three surgeries.
It was a terrible time for me which was compounded by the fact my brother passed away from cancer while I was going through treatment.
I am on my own – I have no children or husband and at times I get very lonely. It gets me down a lot. I used to take my nephew's kids on day-trips over the summer holidays and bring them to the park but I just don't have the energy to do that now. The kids wonder what is wrong with me because we all used to have so much fun together.
I can call on my family to take me to appointments etc, but I can't expect them to be here with me all the time.
I stay at home a lot because I feel the cold much more now and have to have my heating turned up all the time. When I go to someone else's home I always feel cold, uncomfortable and want to leave.
Going out is also a struggle because I regularly feel sick. It seems like my whole life has gone.
The Macmillan nurses have been great – very attentive and caring towards both me and my brother before he passed away.
I do feel isolated but I am also aware that there are people out there who are worse off and don't have anyone at all to help them.
I think a support group should be set up for these people so that they can go and meet others going through the same thing, or simply just to get some company.