A cancer diagnosis is a devastating thing, whoever you are or wherever you may be living. Imagine how it would be if you were living abroad when you were diagnosed, perhaps newly arrived in that country, unfamiliar with the local health system, far from your networks of family and friends and unable to speak the language. This is the situation that some members of the English-speaking population in Basel are faced with. And it’s this situation that prompted us, with the active support of Frau Doctor h.c. Susi Gaillard of Leben Wie Zuvor, to form an English-speaking Support Group in Basel.
It all began in 2000 with Joy Stone, a long-time member of the English community in Basel who, to our great sadness, we lost to breast cancer in 2005. Joy had attended some of Susi’s group meetings and realised the value of such special support networks. She explored with Susi the idea of forming an English-speaking group, and immediately found a positive echo. A few more of us followed and together we formed the English-speaking Cancer Support Group Basel (ESCSG).
We are a multi-national group – our members come from the UK, US, Australia, Norway, Germany, Canada and Argentina – but the link is English. We get together once a month in Basel, usually for lunch, which is followed immediately by our meeting.
In addition to this once-monthly support group meeting, we offer practical help and support, in person, by phone, e-mail or Skype, to anyone directly or indirectly affected by cancer. We visit in hospital or at home, or take people to medical appointments, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. We also help with translation to and from German and French.
Over the years since the group was formed we have invited specialists to come and address us on a range of topics related to cancer. Our speakers have included research scientists (from industry and from research institutes), oncologists, a radiologist, an endocrinologist, a plastic surgeon, a specialist in communications between doctors and patients, an expert in patient competence and complementary therapies and a specialist in palliative care. In 2008 we held a one-day conference entitled ‘Cancer Touches us All’, in which twelve different speakers addressed an audience of around 150 people on different topics related to both breast and colorectal cancer – the two cancers that most commonly affect women.
On several occasions in the past year, members of our group have participated in an ongoing programme at Novartis. The objective of the programme is to present the perspective of the patient to a wide variety of people working there – and not only the scientists who research and make the drugs. These events, in English, take the form of an interview between the patient and an oncologist, in which the patient is encouraged to talk about her illness, from diagnosis through surgery and treatment. It’s been both a demanding and a rewarding exercise, both for those of us participating and – we’ve discovered from audience feedback – for those attending. For many of them, this is the first time they’ve met ‘a real patient’ and heard firsthand of their experience of cancer.
Last year we were given our own page on the Leben Wie Zuvor website, and we also set up this blog. Here you will find news of upcoming meetings and speakers, as well as articles of interest to people diagnosed with cancer and a full list of resources in English in our area and on the Web. Increasingly we find that the blog is the way people find out about our group.
Most recently, as a service to the English-speaking community, we commissioned a translation of a Patient Decree (also known as a Living Will) from German into English. This important document, known in German as Patientenverfügung, now appears in English on the website of the Hospiz im Park.
And in case that all sounds rather serious, we also have fun too. Taking advantage of Basel’s situation close to some great thermal baths, we’ve scheduled pampering days out at Bad Bellingen and also at Rheinfelden. We’ve also profited from the fact that easyJet has now made Basel a European hub, with short breaks to Rome, Lisbon and Valencia. And whether it’s a visit to the baths or a naughty weekend away (which is known in our group as ‘a jolly’), we have learnt that it’s very special to have ‘time out’ with people who have shared the same journey through illness.
This year, as we celebrate (a mere) 10 years since our group was formed in Basel, Leben Wie Zuvor is celebratings 30 years of valuable work supporting women diagnosed with breast cancer. We salute them for their example and we thank them all for their warm welcome and support to us as a group.
If you would like to meet up with any of us, or if you would like further information on the group, please drop us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!