Spotlight On: Norma Edwards, a vastly valuable volunteer in our Wellbeing Centre #hospicehero #volunteer #wirralhospice #caring #thankyou #wellbeing #fun #activities

Norma with SantaEvery 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.Norma 2

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.

Norma

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

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Norma Edwards volunteers in our Day Therapy #hospiceheroes #volunteersweek

Norma Edwards is one of Wirral Hospice St John’s fantastic volunteers, she supports our work with patients who visit our Day Therapy Unit.

Norma is a firm favourite with our patients having been part of the volunteer team for five years. She joined us following the wonderful care that her husband received here at the Hospice. She has made friendships during her time with us that are still as strong today as they were then.

Alongside the two mornings week Norma volunteers, she takes part in lots of social activities with friends including days out, mini breaks, restaurant visits, quizzes and trips to the theatre.

With such a lot going on there is never a dull moment for Norma. Thank you for being one of our Hospice Heroes!

Spotlight On Marianne Sunter, a former chemistry teacher who ‘reacts’ brilliantly when we need her precious time. #wirralhospice #volunteer #wirral #family #hospice #teaching #hospicehero

Marianne 1The phrase, ‘you can take that to the bank’, is confirmation that a valuable item, or a piece of information, is safe and secure. You can rely on it!

Wirral Hospice St John’s has a bank of volunteers who make themselves available, almost at the drop of a hat, to cover holidays and the ill health of other volunteers. They are, by definition, dependable people. Marianne Sunter is one such valiant volunteer.

She gives us her valuable time on main reception when called upon. Her ability to organise and prioritise, not surprising for a former deputy head teacher, is clear. The fact that she’s also very friendly and welcoming brings a mix of skills that are perfect for directing people to our patients and staff at Wirral Hospice St John’s.Marianne 2

Marianne was born and brought up in Wirral. She attended St Laurence’s Primary School in Birkenhead (merged into St Werburgh’s in 2010)  and then attained the qualifications which took her to the Holt Hill Convent school, the sister school of Upton Hall School FCJ (where Marianne actually spent the first five years of her teaching career).

Loving learning and challenging herself at school, she achieved her Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award  and was further inspired to choose a career in teaching after gaining her degree in Chemistry at the University of Liverpool.

In all, she spent 38 years in teaching. Her career flourished at Box Hill School in Surrey where she was for 33 years, rising to become its deputy head teacher for the latter 15 of them. Not surprisingly, “I tend to throw myself into every challenge”, Marianne also ran the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme at Box Hill.

In her role, she’s been in private audience with Prince Philip himself and has also met Princes Andrew and Edward, and also Princess Anne. She is happy to advocate and uphold the values of the school she spent so long at, international understanding, democracy, a care for the world around us, a sense of adventure, and the qualities of leadership and service. 

In 1992 Marianne met the love of her life, and future husband, Jim. Jim had already enjoyed a career working in air freight which had taken him around the world. He was, literally, a ‘high-flying’ executive!

At the time, and still maybe, it was a natural move to retire from a fast moving and successful career in one industry to takeover the management of a country pub and hotel. The Running Horses, on London Road in Surrey, is just such a place! It’s also right over the road from Box Hill School and fate brought Jim and Marianne together.

It’s fair to say that the pub wasn’t all Jim had envisaged and just two years later he was working at Box Hill, initially as a groundsman but, like Marianne, was happy to go above and beyond. (Here they are pictured together). In his 16 years at Box Hill he grew their thousands of bedding plants every year, managed several allotments, looked after all the school buses and coordinated the transport for all outside activities. He also found time to make and paint scenery for school plays and run the bars for parents’ events.Marianne and Jim

Jim developed Kidney problems at around sixty two years of age. From 2011 he was receiving dialysis at home under the care of their local NHS (and his personal ‘nurse’, Marianne). By 2015, Jim’s kidneys were failing and he was finally admitted to the Renal Unit at St Helier Hospital in Carshalton. The decision was taken to stop his dialysis and to live out his days as comfortably and happy as possible.

It was Jim’s palliative care consultant, Dr Swift, “Swift by name, swift by nature” Marianne says, who, at the right time, arranged for the transfer to St Catherine’s Hospice in Sussex.

Marianne remembers, “From the moment he arrived at the hospice he was quickly free from pain and felt very peaceful. I was struck by how attentive the hospice staff and volunteers were. Jim’s full name was William James Sunter and at hospital people would refer to him as William. From the moment we arrived, the staff  at St Catherine’s Hospice knew him, like he was known by everyone, as Jim! Just like at Wirral Hospice St John’s, people were friendly, empathetic, compassionate but, somehow, just ‘normal’, fun even… at the right time! Human, I suppose.”

Marianne and stepdaughter, Joanne, were holding hands with Jim when he died on 15th May, 2015.

Marianne had retired to be with Jim and has now re-settled in Wirral. She is a massive advocate of hospice care and takes a keen interest reading the history of the hospice movement and its ethos. She has great admiration for the work of Dame Cicely Saunders in establishing hospice care and shows me an excerpt from an account of her life (by Jennifer Worth of ‘Call the Midwife’ fame) and matches it to her own experience;

The primary objective of a hospice is to show that death does not need to be a time of suffering but a time to achieve fulfilment. It encompasses the quiet unsung lives of ordinary people. People who have lived simply in a small circle, doing their best and achieving great things, in small ways. My husband (Jim) was such a person. His life was not spectacular but he was a good man and one of the wisest people I have known. He died quietly and peacefully as he had lived with his daughter and I on either side holding his hands. This is life coming full circle.

Both Jim and Marianne were held in such high esteem at Box Hill (see page 08 at this link by clicking here, that there is now an annual award in their name and Jim’s memory, ‘The Sunter Award.’ This goes to the student who has gone above and beyond the normal course of study every year. (Marianne is pictured here presenting the first award to a young man, Josh Barnett, who she says is always a great ambassador for the school).Marianne 3

Nowadays Marianne is in close touch with stepdaughter Joanne, married to Mark, with granddaughters Georgina 21 and Phoebe 16. They experienced their own sadness in losing a little boy Owen after 5 days who is still remembered by all the family. There’s also stepson, Mike, married to Emma with five-year-old, Leo.

Marianne has two brothers. Eldest, Gerry, who lives in Prenton, is married to Barbara. Their son, Matthew has Marianne’s great-niece, Alice and great nephew, Sam. Gerry and Barbara’s daughter, Claire, lives in Wirral with husband Dave and have more great-nephews for Marianne, Adam 10 and Luke 6.

Her other brother Philip, married to Helen, lives in New Zealand and their daughter Alexandra is married and lives in Missouri.

She also has an Aunt, Catherine known as Carrie, who will receive a telegram from The Queen for her 100th birthday in July this year.

As well as making her contribution to the hospice, Marianne adds her considerable experience in education as the chair of governors of St Oswald’s Primary School in Mollington, Chester.

To relax, Marianne is part of a quiz team called The Soapsuds (they’re based at Port Sunlight’s Lever Club). They are in Division One of the Wirral Quiz League and regularly compete in cup matches organised by the larger Merseyside Quiz Leagues.

What I had to find out from somebody else (not mentioning anyone, but Carole Snow is our volunteer services manager!) is that Marianne also took part in the ITV quiz show, The Chase, hosted by Bradley Walsh. For aficionados, she and another lady, Mia, reached the last two to face The Vixen in the final chase. See the action on You Tube by clicking here.

So, with piles of energy, commitment, knowledge and enthusiasm we’re looking forward to seeing Marianne here at the hospice for a lot of years ahead. In fact, I think we can safely say, where Marianne is concerned, you can take that to the bank!

Author: Billy Howard

Spotlight On: Penny Lee: Co-ordinating Life Affirming Activities in our Wellbeing Centre # wirralhospice #wellbeing #caring #fun #thankyou #hospicecare #hospicehero

PennyThe ancient Greeks were pioneers in many fields which still impact modern life. Some people, and the subject areas they specialised in, are universally famous. We’ve all heard of Hippocrates in medicine, Socrates in philosophy and Pythagoras in mathematics.

Wirral Hospice St John’s applies learning, practise and innovation in all of those fields: Progressive treatments and therapies for the relief of pain and discomfort in Medicine contribute to the essential work of the hospice; Philosophy is used in strategies which inform coping, counselling and caring for patients and their families; And, we also employ basic Mathematics, not least when counting up the many donations generous supporters make, which help us to provide our vital services.

One more area, for which we are indebted to the ancient Greeks is, Art! The way they found expression in art is still inspiring the various forms we see today. At the hospice we’re especially lucky to have a special modern descendant of Greece, our Wellbeing Centre creative therapies co-ordinator, Penny Lee!

Penny is Greek? Well, actually, Penny, (is there a more English sounding name?) was born and brought up in England by her German mum, Ute, and Greek dad, Costas. She has a fireman brother, also Costas, and she has a, rather lovely, birth name, Panayota Olymbios

I don’t know about you but, that makes me want to book a two week summer holiday in the Greek Islands! It definitely means we need to know more about Penny, her motivations, including her passion for art and its use as a creative therapy in the Wellbeing Centre.

“Our patients face real challenges with their various conditions and our job is to gently encourage activities which feed their spirit. It’s not about being a fantastic artist; we simply provide the materials to enable people to explore their own creativity.”

Art might involve painting or sculpting, drawing or fabric design. It could be a poem or song lyrics. What we absolutely know is, it genuinely helps the people who attend our Wellbeing Centre.

The ‘doing’ is the important thing. It is sometimes the ideal way for patients to ‘escape’, to be lost in the moment and to enjoy a period of relief. At other times people’s feelings are crystallised in their work and it can release emotions. In Wellbeing, Penny, her volunteer helpers and, of course, the clinical staff are close-by for the occasions that require a kind word or, when necessary, some more private conversations.Penny and Norma

Penny’s volunteer helpers, Norma (pictured with Penny), Mike (more of him later), Debbie and Jackie are experienced people who add invaluable support. Listening, nurturing and encouraging people, gently, are the essential characteristics needed to help with creative pastimes.

Wirral Hospice St John’s Wellbeing Centre is a place where people, with life limiting illnesses, are welcomed when they have been referred through their consultant’s, and/or GP’s and/or community nurse(s). People are still under the care of their GP’s but are assessed in our Outpatient’s (also sometimes Inpatients) department to agree a day in the week (Tuesday – Friday), over 8 weeks, when they can attend.

Penny’s inspiration for working in a caring environment stems from her mum who was a care worker in a nursing home. She worked with older people and would often take Penny who, as she reached her teenage years, began to build up a keen respect for people with various health needs. At the same time, at school, Penny was displaying a keen talent for art!

‘A Level Art’ was duly achieved and she had to make a choice, “Should I be a nurse or do art? Health or art? At 18, Penny chose art and went off to Norwich University to study Graphic Design and Illustration. Happily, for our patients, the combination of care and art is now fused in facilitating creative therapies here at the hospice.

Penny WorkAfter graduation, Penny worked at Chandos Records, a specialist company producing classical music records. As a senior graphic designer, her job involved organising photo-shoots, creating illustrations (from listening to the musical pieces) and final art direction for vinyl covers which sold all over the world. If you bought a record of Nigel Kennedy’s, the world famous violinist, in the 80’s the chances are Penny designed the cover!

Penny also experienced the caring work of hospices when a former colleague from Chandos, and a good friend, Mark, died at St Elizabeth Hospice, Ipswich, at only 39 years of age.

Eventually marriage brought Penny to Wirral and she has two boys (pictured with Penny), Daniel 21, who is studying German and Portuguese in Bristol, and Jonny 23 (fondly called ‘Mr Gadget’ by Penny) who works in Manchester for the growing digital content provider ‘Unilad’Penny and Boys

Nowadays Penny also volunteers for an organisation called Place2Be which works with schools to meet the needs of some (often vulnerable) children who don’t always thrive in the mainstream. It’s really inspiring work.

Penny GracieIn June Penny will have been at the hospice for six years. Until she worked here, and even now, Penny has been involved in voluntary work. She loves dogs and has been involved in ‘pat dogs’ for people with dementia (her own dog is Gracie, pictured on the left) . She’s been an Age UK befriender and was working at a café in Willaston when she met Wellbeing Centre volunteer, Mike Ring.

Mike introduced Penny to the hospice as a volunteer and, when a staff position became available, well, the rest is history. That’s not ancient Greek history mind, it’s modern history being made with a Greek, plus German and English, influence.

Thank you, Penny, you’re really making history!

Author: Billy Howard

Spotlight On: Jill Littlewood, Clinical Manager for the Inpatient Unit at #wirralhospice – #nurse #palliativecare #wirral #hospicehero

 Jill DrinksFor Jill Littlewood, everything is about putting the patients of  Wirral Hospice St John’s at the heart of all that we do. “The care we give has been greatly enhanced by the development of the services we provide, both here and out in our Wirral communities. The various hospice teams that support our patients and their families, get together regularly to agree the best ways in which we can help our patients live as full a life as possible.”

Jill joined the hospice in January 2014, and as Inpatients Ward Manager, she has a very busy job that she finds wholly fulfilling. This fact shines out of every sentence she utters. “I love the passionate commitment of the people I work with; the staff and the volunteers. We all care about the wellbeing of our patients and their families and, professionally, I couldn’t work with a better team. Sometimes, the work is challenging but we help each other, as we do with our patients, over a cup of tea and a chat. Sometimes I need to look after the team and sometimes they have to look after me.”

After serving 40 years in the health services, 37 as a nurse, Yorkshire born Jill has seen it all. So, how did she choose her profession? “At 16 I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My dad worked as a catering manager at Huddersfield Hospital and he got me a job in the kitchen! I’ve always loved cooking – people at the hospice will tell you about my baking – so I went to college to do a catering course. I really enjoyed it but as I was also working in the hospital I realised that I could do more to help if I became a nurse. I studied at Huddersfield Hospital and lived there, at the nurse’s home, until I gained my qualifications”.

Since then a full and varied career has seen Jill honing her expertise to the greater benefit of our patients. Having worked across the whole spectrum of nursing; in operating theatres, in ICUs, gynaecology and, with 22 years as a district nurse in Chester, Jill now pursues her ultimate vocation, palliative care.

“Wirral Hospice St John’s is the best place in the world for us to support people, often at the most challenging time for them and their families. Our job is to get people who may be experiencing uncontrolled pain or severe discomfort, as a result of their illnesses, back to their own home environment. Patients come to us at the Inpatient Ward when referred to the hospice by a hospital doctor, GP, district nurse or other healthcare professional.

People are generally admitted for, up to, an initial two week period, depending on the progress of their individual illnesses. Patient’s needs; physical, psychological and spiritual, are all catered for so that they can look forward to a return to familiar surroundings as soon as we can stabilise their condition.

Once people return home they can also receive our Hospice at Home service which, as well as providing a regular friendly and familiar face from the hospice, supports partners, family members (often 24-hr carers) and other carers to take a little time of their own to tend to their own wellbeing. So while Hospice at Home is with the patient, their carers might be shopping or be able to take a short break for a couple of hours.

In her ‘real’ life Jill is happily married to Steve (a retired Psychiatrist) whom she met in her home county of Yorkshire some 40 years ago. She has two children, Rachel and Anthony, who have both blessed her in the last couple of years with her precious granddaughters. Oldest granddaughter, Olivia, is two (she features a little later in this story), while, only 10 weeks ago, Anthony’s partner, Felicity, gave birth to Daisy, granddaughter number two.

Olivia has already written her place in hospice history by introducing ‘Granny’ Jill to internet viral sensation the Baby Shark challenge. Jill was so taken by the fun they were both having learning the moves to the song that she shared with colleagues, Infection Control nurse, Chantelle Hardman, Nicola D’Amelio, Clinical Governance Manager and Ward Sister, Clare Norman.

It was deemed a fun challenge to get more of the hospice team involved in. So Pied Piper, Jill, gathered up a growing number of willing participants and within an hour or so the music was played, the Baby Shark challenge was met and the video recording shared on the hospice’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. It has reached more than half a million people to date, featured on BBC Breakfast, Lorraine and other media channels, including The Daily Mirror’s Facebook page.

Another of Jill’s passions is for singing! A proud member of the Chester Operatic Society, she puts her ability to great use for the hospice in early December, helping our Carol Choir to hit the right notes to add to the ambience of our annual Light up a Life switch on service.

So, sing it from the rooftops, Jill’s legacy at the hospice is secure. After 39 years as a nurse, Jill tells us that she takes most pleasure in helping younger  – her words – staff and nurses to develop into their roles at Wirral Hospice St John’s. She sees her role as helping those people to “get skilled up, to do well and to get on”.

What is certain is that the future is bright for Wirral Hospice St John’s if those younger people listen to, and learn from, the ever enthusiastic, Jill Littlewood.

Author: Billy Howard

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