Helping People Regain Their Confidence Is Deeply Rewarding

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Katrina Falvey
Katrina Falvey, Credit pic Irish Examiner

Positive Health Coach Katrina Falvey shares her experience of working at Cork ARC Cancer Support House

In her role as a Survivorship Development Coordinator with Cork ARC Cancer Support House, Katrina Falvey brings more than 20 years’ experience as an oncology nurse across a broad spectrum of psycho-oncology, medical, radiation oncology and clinical trials. Driven to enhance client-focused cancer survivorship services, she is currently completing a Masters in Positive Health Coaching, adding to her diploma in Positive Health, and geared toward empowering cancer survivors to live a full and meaningful life.

“As a Positive Health Coach, I work in partnership with clients integrating approaches from Positive Psychology, Lifestyle Medicine and Coaching Psychology,” she explains. “My expertise lies in working with clients who are diagnosed with cancer, recovering from cancer, or living with cancer as a chronic illness requiring ongoing treatment. Positive Health Coaching is a fusion of two specialities — Lifestyle medicine and Positive Psychology, which I believe addresses the holistic needs of individuals with cancer.” 

Lifestyle medicine employs evidence-based behavioural strategies centred around six key pillars: nutrition, physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoiding risky substances, and fostering positive social connections. “Positive Psychology, on the other hand, prioritises overall well-being by celebrating individual strengths, wisdom, creativity, and imagination. By integrating these two approaches, we recognise that cancer extends beyond physical illness, impacting individuals psychologically, emotionally, socially, and financially.” 

Katrina was attracted to working with Cork ARC House due to their holistic approach to cancer care, supporting people in the emotional and psychological areas. “Positive Health Coaching is about helping people to become effective in managing their own illness, in as much as they can, in partnership with their healthcare team.”

Cork ARC House is a safe haven for people with cancer and their families, where they can find information, practical help and emotional support. “Whatever stage of your cancer journey, you are not alone,” is their guiding mantra. “If you are a cancer patient or someone close to you has cancer, we are here to offer you specialist professional support ranging from counselling to pilates classes to information on social welfare.”

The story began with a group of people who recognised a gap in cancer services, and came together with a shared vision of supporting people with cancer and their families in the Munster region. In 2001 they formed a Board of Trustees and together set about designing a plan for Cork ARC Cancer Support House. The Board brought their plan to the then Department of Health, seeking their support and they in turn provided original premises, ‘Cliffdale’, on O’Donovan Rossa Road on a life lease.

Great emphasis was put on creating the ambience and atmosphere of the house and within twelve months of the launch, it was transformed into a warm and tranquil haven, and welcomed its first visitors in 2003. From the outset, the need for services was immediately evident as people made contact as soon as the doors opened, and over the years the number and variety of support services offered has increased to meet the evolving needs of visitors. In April 2015, Cork ARC Bantry was opened, through which the services have been brought to the people of West Cork. In 2017, after years of searching for a new premises to meet the demand for services, Cork ARC purchased the beautiful Sarsfield House on Sarsfield Road, where the essence of Cork ARC — developed in Cliffdale — has transferred to the new location.

“As an oncology nurse, I recognise the obstacles my clients encounter,” Katrina explains how her role functions within the ARC House environment. “Transitioning from acute cancer care to daily life can be daunting. Many contend with persistent long-term side effects that impact their daily lives, work and employment. Those undergoing ongoing cancer treatment must manage side effects while adapting to the changes brought about by their diagnosis.” Additionally, clients face the challenge of adhering to guidelines for exercise, nutrition, and sleep while coping with side effects such as fatigue and insomnia.

“Cancer can often knock someone’s confidence or throw them off kilter. With so many decisions and changes in their lives, this can be overwhelming to manage alone. In my work with clients, I utilise a compassionate and non-judgmental approach tailored to their needs within a holistic framework. Creating a supportive and trusting relationship is essential in my work. It encourages clients to embrace self-reflection and become more open to heightened self-awareness, which is the starting point for making positive changes and improving their well-being.” 

Katrina recognises and acknowledges each client’s unique expertise in their own life, and empowers them to make small changes. “These shifts can move them from feeling stuck or unmotivated to a state of possibility, meaning, and flourishing, even in the face of illness. While I am a support to clients, they actually become their own rocks of support if you can help them develop good adaptive coping strategies. That is what the Health Coaching is all about — you are helping people and empowering them — but really it is they who make the rules and the changes. I see it as being with them on the roundabout for a period of time, and giving the support to become their own advocates.”

Positive Health Coaching focuses mainly on positive psychology — an area that looks at a person’s strengths and resources. “It is about helping them bring out their own qualities, and in many cases they may not even be aware that they have them. In some cases, clients may have forgotten they have these qualities due to a lack of confidence, so you are trying to bring that to the fore so that they can help themselves.”

Even faced with the severe reality of a cancer diagnosis and the attendant possible chemotherapy, radiation treatment and surgery, Katrina witnesses daily the triumph of the human spirit, even when confronted with the greatest challenges. “Even despite being ill, people can actually flourish, and I can attest to that. What we try to do is bring someone from going through the motions to living a very good full life.”

In a career where, truly, ‘no two days are the same’, Katrina works with clients across the spectrum of cancer treatment — from the early stages of recovery onward to going back to work and getting on with their lives. “It is more about empowering people than enabling them — you are really trying to help them find their feet again, and transition back to a new normal in their lives.”

In a career she clearly enjoys, Katrina continues to juggle the demands of finishing her Masters, while continuing to help her clients on the road to their physical and emotional recovery. “My work is deeply fulfilling, rewarding, and invigorating. Every day, I gain insights from my clients about resilience, hope, purpose, and the transformative impact of humour, gratitude, and post-traumatic growth.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner Health Section, May 10, 2024.