35 to 45% of people touched by cancer experience distress

07 November 2013

Montreal -

35 to 45% of people touched by cancer experience distress

In ten years, the Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer J’écoute service has responded to 62,000 calls from Quebecers wanting to cope better with the disease

Montreal, November 7, 2013 — Hearing “You have cancer” is a shock, a dramatic event both physically and psychologically. Since 2003, the Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer J’écoute service has responded to 62,000 phone requests to enhance the quality of life of callers. Through the CCS’s psychosocial support service, someone “who had already been there” brought them hope, encouraged them, and shared different ways to cope with the disease. By doing so, Cancer J’écoute helped alleviate fear, distress, and the feeling of isolation among thousands of Quebecers.

“Several cancers today have a very high survival rate. This new reality is borne out by statistics: nearly 200,000 Quebecers who were diagnosed with cancer during the past ten years are still alive. New cancer treatments mean that from now on, for weeks or months, or even years, more and more people will live with this reality. They, and their caregivers as well, need support at some point in their journey and that’s what we offer,” says Suzanne Dubois, Executive Director of the CCS – Quebec Division. “It’s now ten years since the Cancer J’écoute service came into existence. The Canadian Cancer Society is proud to acknowledge that in one of the most critical moments of a lifetime, this service is offered to all, at the right time, with the right listening skills, and the right words.”

Why Cancer J’écoute?

People living with cancer and their loved ones may need psychological and emotional support at any stage in their treatment, including during the periods of investigation and survival.

Stress, fear, and helplessness are common symptoms in people touched by cancer. From the time of diagnosis, the person living with cancer must still continue to play their role in the family and society, which can cause exhaustion and worry. Added to constraints imposed by the disease are financial difficulties, communication problems, and incomprehension, which can produce nearly as much pain and suffering as the treatment itself, both for the person living with cancer and their loved ones.

Distress, medically recognized now as the sixth vital sign along with body temperature, respiratory rate, pulse, blood pressure, and pain, compromises the quality of life, affects compliance with the treatment, and interferes on the level of controlling symptoms such as pain. We also know that a patient who experiences psychological distress will stay longer in hospital and require more frequent medical visits.

Partners, children, parents, and friends also go through a lot of suffering in the face of cancer. In Quebec, one in seven people are caregivers. It is essential for loved ones to obtain appropriate psychosocial support at the right time to prevent physical and psychological burnout during and after the illness of a loved one.

“Before being diagnosed with cancer, a person is often in good physical and mental health. They lead a normal professional and family life. Cancer turns everything upside down: plans, stability in the family, a couple’s relationship, work,” says Lisa Corbeil, counselling psychologist at Cancer J’écoute. “Doubt and worry overwhelm many people living with cancer and their loved ones as soon as a diagnosis is made. If they don’t seek help, they’re likely to be riddled with fear and anxiety throughout their illness, and even beyond.”

The power of listening and support

Research shows that using a psychosocial support service such as Cancer J’écoute has a number of advantages. Various studies report that participating in a support group helps increase the capacity for self-affirmation, feeling of belonging, hope, quality of life, and psychological well-being.

New cancer guide for the family

To highlight its tenth anniversary, the CCS’s Cancer J’écoute service has produced a guide for children and teenagers called L’enfant et l’adolescent face au cancer d’un parent. This guide, meant for parents and social workers, helps them better understand children’s possible reactions and equips them with tools to communicate better with these young people.

“Children also experience a whole gamut of emotions when a parent has cancer. They too experience anger, anxiety, fear, and sadness. What is difficult for us, the parents, is to manage our own emotions and our stages of acceptance of the disease in addition to those of our children who each experience it differently. I highly recommend seeking support like the one offered by Cancer J’écoute. Consulting a professional is also something to consider. We must learn the famous “letting go” and tell ourselves that for the moment all that counts is our health. All alone, we often put too much pressure on ourselves,” says    Marie-Claude Gagnon, the muse who inspired the new guide, after she had breast cancer at 37 when her children were only 2, 8, and 12 years old.

“You mustn’t remain alone. It has been clinically proven that psychological support enhances the quality of life and facilitates adaptation, contributing to global well-being,” says Ms. Corbeil.

The Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer J’écoute is a psychosocial support service made up of counsellors, professionals, and qualified volunteers. This 250-strong interdisciplinary team, spread out all over Quebec, offers a variety of support services to individuals and groups. It is the largest interdisciplinary team offering support in Quebec. Visit cancer.ca or call our Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.

Every day, the Canadian Cancer Society works to save more lives. We have been relentless in our commitment to prevent cancer, fund research, and support people touched by the disease. For 75 years, our goal has remained unchanged: do more so that fewer of us have to face cancer and more survive. Let’s save more lives.


André Beaulieu, Spokesperson and Senior Advisor, Public Relations

Canadian Cancer Society – Quebec Division

abeaulieu@quebec.cancer.ca 514 393-3444