Every Wednesday and Friday morning you will see Norma radiating positive energy in our Wellbeing Centre. She’ll be making people a cuppa, lending a friendly ear, giving her home-spun advice and helping to facilitate creative therapies with patients. She’s a lovely person. Someone you would trust with your most valuable possessions.
I asked her if we could share her story and she made a date to have a cuppa with me in Wirral Hospice St John’s Hub Café. I was planning to have a chat and jot down some notes to work from, but Norma comes prepared with a written account of her life and how it has led to volunteering. That certainly made my job easier (which I’m all for!) so, in (almost) her own words, here’s Norma’s story.
My life as a volunteer began in the early 1990’s. I’d promised myself around ten years earlier I would give something back as soon as I was able. You see, in 1984, when he was only nine years old, our son, Andy, underwent major surgery to remove a benign tumour within his spine. The fantastic skill of the surgeon, backed up with wonderful nursing care and Andy’s own quiet determination led to a remarkable recovery, exceeding everybody’s expectations.
We all persevered and Andy made up for lost time in his school work. As my husband, Reay, and I waved him off to University I found myself with time to spare.
I trained as a volunteer at, what is now, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, working two sessions a week on their Delamere Day Case Unit (which is dedicated to delivering chemotherapy to patients) getting to know patients and their families as they underwent, often several months of, treatment.
I had 11 very happy years there but, for a brief period, I myself had to rely on the great personal support of the staff and fellow volunteers on Delamere. I was diagnosed with ocular melanoma – a rare eye cancer. The treatment was a fairly strange and lonely experience. Five days of continuous plaque radiotherapy, in isolation. My professor was pioneering a more conservative treatment designed to minimise sight loss.
It was a new procedure with nothing guaranteed but I agreed to take the risk. I feel incredibly fortunate that it was a complete success. My tumour was dealt with and now, I visit the eye cancer research unit every year, twenty years on my sight is as good as anybody’s my age. Once again I felt incredibly fortunate.
As life got back to normal, working part time at a local pharmacy, volunteering and enjoying life there was no major drama for several years.
In 2007, Reay took early retirement and we were looking forward to a new beginning for us both. Fatefully, it was not to be. Reay was diagnosed with prostate cancer and after rallying following early treatment, he was admitted to Wirral Hospice St John’s.
What a wonderful place we knew we were in. Although Reay’s condition gradually worsened we experienced great care on every level. Nothing was too much trouble and the support that was extended to us all made us feel like we were home from home. Sadly, Reay’s illness was advanced and he died soon after.
In time I knew I wanted to get back into volunteering. I also wanted to repay the kindness, care and support I’d felt at the hospice. So I started working for a day a week on what was then called daycare. This grew into day therapy and is now the Wellbeing Centre where I work alongside Penny as an ‘activities volunteer.’ Two mornings a week I love getting involved in art therapy, group work and especially our card making.
Reay was at Unilever for 30 years and outside of the hospice Norma is an active member of the company’s retirement group. Norma has a full life on top of what she does for the Hospice. Day trips, overnight breaks, theatre visits, lunches, other social events and holidays are all part of the fun. She also enjoys spending family time with Andy and daughter in law, Tracy, and also looks forward to spending time with her other relations in South Wales.
I ask Norma to conclude by telling us of her general thoughts of what she experiences at the hospice,
“The atmosphere is always, warm, welcoming, friendly and informal. The air is often punctuated with laughter with our patients. Some people may have an old fashioned idea of hospices and I just think, Wow! It’s not like that at all. It’s the kindness, isn’t it? There is a lot of ‘normality’, if you know what I mean. I love the banter that happens but also know when somebody just wants to talk and then it’s my job to listen, adding a kind word if I can. It is a pleasure to play a small part in it all.”
It’s no small part, Norma, and long may it continue.
Author: Billy Howard