Mindfulness and Cancer Care by Trish Bartley

Mindfulness and Cancer Care by Trish Bartley

Times are hard – and doubly hard if you or a loved one has just been diagnosed with cancer – for cancer involves a level of existential threat that affects not just the person with cancer and their loved ones – but the entire network of health workers who support them.

The impact of the Covid pandemic and universally strained resources have added to the demands of working in the cancer field. Delays in diagnoses and treatment add to the stress, low morale and burnout amongst many cancer professionals. Investing in self-care and offering valuable tools that help to manage the load will not fix the system – but it does have the potential to ease the burden and reduce the personal cost to those who do this work. And this can be the start of making a real difference.

Mindfulness has been shown to have much to offer those of us who are stressed and struggling – but attending an 8-week mindfulness-based course may be too demanding for people already stretched, time and energy wise – and a generalised mindfulness taster session may not be enough to make much of a difference to this particular group of staff.

For these reasons, Sharon Hadley, CEO of Oxford Mindfulness Foundation (OMF), and my colleague Christina Shennan and I decided to offer a brief targeted mindfulness-informed intervention specifically for those who work with people with cancer. Christina and I have trained teachers in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Cancer (MBCT-Ca) (Bartley, 2012) for many years – in the UK and further afield in places such as Hong Kong and Italy. The MBCT for Cancer programme offers people with cancer a chance to learn how to manage uncertainty and anxiety and find ways to enjoy life more.

This training for cancer staff draws directly on the MBCT-Ca approach. We have designed this programme to offer skills and resources to cancer health and allied care professionals that help them manage the pressure of their work – in ways that are more mindful, self-compassionate and creative. We have deliberately planned the training over 2 weeks in 4 half day sessions (that mostly take place at weekends). We want the training to be as accessible as we can make it, available and relevant to people doing this work in different parts of the world – and feasible, we hope, to those of you with personal and family responsibilities that involve you for much of the weekend. We are only too aware that staff can often feel too stressed to attend trainings. In principle, it can seem like a good idea to go on the training, but by taking time out, further pressure is added to make up the time involved. We are hoping that this training will be different.

We aim to make this approach as relevant as we can – by tailoring things to the specific contexts and working conditions of those of you attending. We will be strongly focused on supporting ways of threading micro mindful practices into everyday work (and home) situations, which will offer the possibility of accessing a steadier sense of personal balance even when things feel difficult. These brief mindfulness practices are very simple to learn – and with focused intention and personal resolve, they can become habits to turn to regularly and whenever they are needed. In time, we learn to cultivate an appreciation of what we offer our clients and patients. This can transform how we feel about our work – by increasing a sense of the value of what we do and decreasing the experience of feeling drained by it.

We are much looking forward to offering this training and grateful to OMF for having the foresight to include it within the mindfulness programmes that they offer. We hope it will make a significant contribution to those who work with people with cancer wherever they are.

Bartley, T., (2012), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Cancer. Wiley-Blackwell.

To apply for the Mindfulness-informed Cancer Care training, please click here.