Robynne Pendariès is an American expat and Professional Organizer in Paris who learned about Cancer Support France (CSF) when someone close to her was diagnosed and she was looking for ways to offer support. Being diagnosed with cancer in a foreign country or trying to assist in another language can be so daunting. CSF was created to ensure that Anglophones in France would not be alone in treating their cancer.
For INSPIRELLE readers, Robynne speaks with another CSF volunteer about the valuable and much-needed services the association offers and what you can do if someone you love is touched by the disease.
Robynne: Judy, please tell us about how you became involved in Cancer Support France (CSF).
Judy: I saw an ad in the AAWE (Association for American Women in Europe) weekly newsletter about joining CSF as a member and volunteering as an AL (Active Listener). As a breast cancer survivor and psychologist, it seemed important to me to get involved with this association that gives support to Anglophones in France touched by cancer. CSF isn’t in place of, but rather in addition to, the team of oncologists, psychologists, alternative therapy practitioners, nutritionists whom we are all lucky to have affordable access to, provided you have a numéro de Sécurite Sociale (French social security number).
Robynne: Were you alone in France at that time in your life?
Judy: Well, I had kids at home, but no spouse.
“I would have really appreciated being accompanied to doctor’s visits, to combat the lonely feelings and stress in the waiting room and help interpret the doctor’s advice (my French was relatively fluent back then, but the anxiety got in the way of my language skills).”
I remember a particularly difficult moment, when I consulted an oncologist for a second opinion regarding my treatment plan. I was all alone, and it was a grey, rainy, cold evening when I left the office. I began doubting myself and my physicians, and would have really benefitted from the physical presence of an Active Listener!
Robynne: I’m interested in learning more about your role as an Active Listener.
Judy: The intensive training that I went through helped tremendously to become a better listener and an informed resource for people touched by cancer, not to mention the continuing education and support which we all receive afterward. For the moment due to the pandemic, contact with my “clients” is by phone and video conference, but it can also take place in person.
Our support can take on many forms: being a sounding board to talk about your feelings and worries, helping to get over the initial shock after a cancer diagnosis, accompanying people to hospitals and doctor’s visits (Active Listeners are native English speakers and bilingual), discussing how to properly manage your lifestyle changes, providing medical information, translating documents and filling out medical forms among other forms of assistance.
I would describe my role as an Active Listener as a kind of intersection between friendship, a doctor-patient relationship, and therapy. In my opinion, setting boundaries with a client and respecting our confidentiality agreement are two of the most important elements.
Robynne: But how do people reach CSF initially, if they are in need of support?
Judy: There is a national telephone hotline (0800 240 200), an email address ([email protected]), a private Facebook group, and a website chock full of information. You will receive a response within 24 hours and will then be directed to the CSF chapter which is geographically closest to your home. All support is confidential and free of charge! In addition, each chapter of CSF hosts “drop-ins” which are open to CSF members, Active Listeners, clients and guests.
Don’t forget – we are not only available for people undergoing treatment for cancer, but also for that person’s family members and caregivers, particularly after a loss if grief support is needed.
Robynne: Getting back to the doctors’ visits, do you have any specific suggestions for how to better handle those stressful moments?
Judy: I do, as a matter of fact! Clients I have worked with are often apprehensive due to the language barrier. Some avoid calling to make appointments, some avoid being alone with the doctor, some experience severe anxiety during hospital visits…and some experience ALL the above! There is a great website/app called DEEPL (a free version exists) which allows you to type in your questions and comments for the doctor in English, and then it will translate them immediately for you in French. You can then copy and paste that to a document and present it to the doctor. I promise that this will decrease your stress levels!
Robynne: Have you learned anything else that you would like to share, with regards to supporting people touched by cancer here in France?
Judy: Yes, I’ve learned a lot from being a part of Cancer Support France. A bit of practical information that I would be happy to share: at public hospitals and private clinics here in France, cancer patients can receive a massage from a masseuse during the actual treatment, as well as having access to acupuncture, dieticians and psychologists. CSF clients have expressed to me how instrumental this type of care is, to help alleviate stress and anxiety (not to mention the gratitude we all feel living in a country that offers such affordable public healthcare).