28 January 2020

The inside story: the Aromatherapist

Jacqui Cammish has been volunteering at the Cancer Information and Support Centre since 2015.

“I was a Fundraiser for Southampton Hospital Charity for ten years. While I was there, I’d hear about all the amazing things happening around the hospital and at the Centre, so as soon as I could help in a hands-on way, I started volunteering my time to help cancer patients.

Volunteering at the Centre

As a therapist, I’ve seen first-hand the real benefits that complementary therapy has; how it makes cancer treatment more bearable for patients and helps to reduce anxieties.

The Centre offers people who’ve been affected by cancer a place to relax, as well as offering information, workshops and free complementary therapies like massage, reiki, reflexology, aromatherapy and counselling. Which therapy is offered is tailored to the needs of each patient and these are assessed during their first visit.

Patients come to the hospital for chemotherapy, and whilst they’re here, they can also come into the Centre to relax and receive a treatment, like an aromatherapy massage. There are situations where patients feel frightened and having the Centre to go to before or after treatment really helps.

One of the things we do, in addition to the treatment, is to give the patients aroma sticks to keep in their pocket or handbag. They’re a bit like sinus inhaler sticks, and can hold a blend of essential oils that help with things like anxiety and fear. When people feel anxious, they can take a few deep breaths and it assists in keeping them calm and relaxed.

Some patients come in with a relative and they are able to utilise the Centre whilst they wait for their loved one by having a hot drink and chat with the trained volunteers. We also have a really comprehensive resource library that families can refer to and get support from. After the treatment, the patient might join them, and I’ve seen patients really benefit from that time.

The Oils 

I trained as a Clinical Aromatherapist, which gives me an understanding of the chemistry behind the essential oils and why they work the way they do. I tailor the oils that I use to meet the needs of the patient on the day they’re visiting. Some examples are:

Nausea: people undergoing chemotherapy often suffer with nausea. Ginger and peppermint can help with that and can also be put into an aroma stick to take home.

Insomnia: a lot of people having treatment also find it difficult to sleep. Frankincense is a really good essential oil for stress and anxiety, but it is also helps you sleep.

Anxiety: I use a blend of lavender, frankincense and mandarin to help patients who are feeling anxious. Frankincense can be used for people who are worried or overwhelmed by thoughts. Mandarin is a cheery smell, as well as being calming.

Comfort: A blend of rose, camomile and lavender can provide a very comforting experience. Lavender soothes and calms and also helps with sleep.

All of our treatments are very gentle. We use light pressure for massage and a lower dilution for the oils: 1% dilution instead of a 3% dilution to make sure that it’s safe.

The oils are always blended together because smell is so powerful. You wouldn’t want somebody to associate a particular smell with the time when they were undergoing treatment for cancer.

Volunteering is the one thing I don’t want to lose, no matter how busy I am. Complementary therapies can really improve quality of life and when you can see that you’ve made a difference, it’s incredibly rewarding.

We can’t cure people but if I can help even a tiny bit to make their difficult time a bit more bearable, I feel like I’ve made a difference”.

The Centre relies on volunteers and donations to keep its doors open.

Donations to Southampton Hospital Charity help pay for running costs; resources like essential oils; counselling sessions and other therapy sessions that can’t be delivered by volunteers.

Last year, the team delivered 781 free complementary therapy sessions in the Centre and a further 453 on the wards.

Last updated: 23/01/2020

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