On the occasion of our 20th anniversary, our past President, Penny Parkinson, wrote the following article for Pyrénées-Orientales Life on the history of Cancer Support France: –

If you keep your eye on the English press, you may have spotted that 2022 sees the twentieth anniversary of a famous cancer association called CRUK – Cancer Research UK.

Closer to home, 2022 also brings the twentieth anniversary of our very own cancer Association – Cancer Support France.  Unlike CRUK, whose mission is focused on research, Cancer Support France (CSF), with its mission of ‘Free, confidential support for English speaking people touched by cancer’, is focused on the individual.

You have seen our CSF banner and an advert perhaps or attended an event but do you know how CSF started and what it does?

CSF began life in 2000 around a kitchen table in the Poitou-Charentes after it’s founder, Linda Shepherd, struggled to come to terms with her radiotherapy treatment.  A fluent French-speaker, Linda needed to unburden in her mother tongue.  She simply could not express her deepest fears in a foreign language.   On discovering other English-speakers with similar problems, she started a regular coffee meeting in her home.  Linda became aware that it was not only the patient who was being affected by the illness and its treatment.  Partners, family members and friends, were struggling with their own problems and were invited to join.

Soon Linda was providing a service by telephone for those who could not make the coffee dates and in 2002, with the support of her oncologist, Linda was encouraged to register as a French Loi 1901 not-for-profit Association.  The kitchen table became a small office in her local Mairie and Cancer Support France was born.  The aim of the Association was (and still is): –

To support English-speaking people living in France who are touched by cancer,
whatever their nationality or country of origin.

Support is thus given to anyone as long as they can communicate in English.  The use of the word ‘touched’ ensures that others within the patient’s entourage are included.

CSF, however, is not just a coffee group or a friendly telephone call.  Linda recognised that what was offered could be so much better than a ‘chat’ if her members had training in the art of active listening.  Initially, Macmillan were happy to help and, since then, CSF has developed its own training programme to reflect its unique situation – supporting people who are struggling to handle a serious health situation in a foreign country, with a foreign health system and a foreign language.

Although telephone support can clearly be given from anywhere, some people were needing more ‘hands-on’ help.  In particular, with the language.  Like Linda, it is not only those who speak poor French, many people find that their powers of expression diminsh as they try and come to terms with a life-threatening illness.  As a result, new CSF Associations sprung up, predominantly in areas with a concentration of Anglophones.

To ensure that all these new Associations were themselves supported, CSF (National) was created in 2010.  Linda became its first President.  The National Association, amongst other things, provides the CSF website and Forum and liaises with national and international organisations like ECPC (European Cancer Patient Coalition).   Membership of this important body gives CSF an opportunity to comment and contribute to patient support at a European level.  And you may be interested to learn that CSF is currently unique in Europe.  It is the only Association operating in a foreign country in its own language.

Most importantly, CSF (National) provides a national telephone and email helpline.  These are monitored by a team of Active Listeners from various Associations and a response within 24 hours to any contact is guaranteed.  To give you a flavour, in 2021 around 251 contacts were taken by the helplines.  Just over a 100 were passed on to local Associations, the remainder were handled by the helpline team with information and signposting to other sources of support.

Before she retired from active involvement in 2014, Linda’s final achievement was to sign a partnership agreement with La Ligue contre le cancer.  This gave CSF the right  to use the La Ligue contre le cancer logo on its flyers and website.  More importantly, with La Ligue contre le cancer being known to every French person, the status of CSF as a respected charitable association was assured.

Today there are 16 CSF Associations, all affliated to CSF (National).  The local Associations vary considerably, some cover a small geographical area, others support people across multiple departments.  Of course, in areas which do not have a local Association, people can still receive emotional support and practical information by phone, Skype, email, Zoom and so on.  Even language support can be given by telephone with the consent of the medical team.  No-one who needs CSF is ignored.

As well as emotional and language support through Active Listeners, CSF Associations provide additional support depending on their membership and local needs.  This could be in the form of monthly coffee mornings or Drop-in days which enable people to meet in a safe space. Or regular book or other sales with an Active Listener on hand to both support and fundraise.  In addition, there are annual events, summer fairs and autumn balls, bien-être days and music evenings.  CSF (National) organises an annual ‘Activity for Life’ which this year is called ‘A Lot of Cycling’ – have a look here for this exciting event taking place in the Lot in September: –


It is only possible to give a taste of what may be available; do have a look at the CSF web pages or Facebook for your local Association and discover activities in your area.

CSF also benefits from invitations to events organised by others, such as Christmas markets where members may have a CSF stand or perhaps run the tombola.  This gives an opportunity to both fundraise and enhance the CSF profile within the French community.  Although all CSF members are volunteers, it is necessary to raise funds to ensure the continuation of the core work of the Associations.  CSF receives no grants or subsidies and any funds raised are used solely to support this work.

If you would like to find out more about CSF then do not hesitate to contact us, see the contact pages.

Penny Parkinson – October 2022