National Volunteer’s Week – Helen’s Story

National Volunteers Week is an annual celebration of the fantastic contribution made by millions of volunteers from across the country. Compton Hospice is proud to have a team of such dedicated and hardworking volunteers that help to keep our services running.

One person who understands first-hand how important volunteers are to any charity or community organisation is 51 year old Helen McPherson. Helen was supported by one of Compton Hospice’s volunteer bereavement visitors after her husband Alex died of oesophagus cancer. Here, Helen talks about how the support of one volunteer lifted her out of the darkness and gave her the strength and confidence to want to become a volunteer herself.

Helen’s Story

In September 2011 my husband Alex started to get very bad heartburn. I also noticed that he was in pain and struggling to eat. We were away on holiday at the time, so I told him he must go to the doctor as soon as he got back, which he did. He was immediately sent for tests which found that he had oesophagus cancer.

Soon after, Alex was sent for a CT scan which found that the cancer was everywhere. It Helen McPherson webhad spread and was in his organs and lymph nodes, just everywhere. We went to see a specialist on 1st November who gave us the devastating news that there was nothing they could do. The cancer had gone too far and it was too late for treatment. Alex had just a matter of months.

It was pretty rapid after that. We were put in touch with Compton Hospice who came to visit us initially at home to help us deal with benefits. Alex made me promise him that I’d care for him at home, which I did. He died on 13th March 2012 at home.

I really struggled to come to terms with Alex’s death. I couldn’t cope. I went to see my doctor who suggested I needed some emergency counselling. He gave me the number for Compton Hospice bereavement service and in the May I had my first counselling session with bereavement visitor Liz Ibberson.

Liz and I instantly connected. I was in a very very dark place before I met Liz. I was so down, and broken I suppose. She helped lift me out of the darkness and put me back together.

Liz visited me in my home, and just sat and listened to how I was feeling. It was really hard and quite distressful to start with, just letting all your grief out. But as time went on I found it helped to let it out and to talk about it. I eventually found myself being able to talk to Liz about things that I couldn’t talk to my friends and family about. I told Liz a lot of things, and she helped me through it. By the last session I sort of wished she didn’t have to leave.

I didn’t know that the hospice provided this type of care. I’d never had to have dealings with Compton before Alex died, and I just thought that the hospice was about looking after the patient. But now I know they care for the family as much as they do the patient.

I knew that I needed help. A lot of people are ashamed at the thought of having counselling, but you can’t always be strong on your own. I knew I needed someone. It’s a big step, but you have to take that step. It’s the first step to recovery.

Now I’m doing great. I’ve even enrolled as a volunteer at the hospice working on the Volunteers-Week LogoInpatient Unit. I’ve done one shift so far and can’t wait to go back and find out more. I do every other Sunday morning.

As soon as you walk into the hospice, the compassion and the kindness you feel is overwhelming. And I love that. I want to give something back for the compassion I was shown.

I cannot fault the hospice, or thank them enough for what they gave me. I mean every word and I hope I can be there to support Compton Hospice for a long time to come.

National Volunteers week runs from 1st to 7th June every year and aims to recognise the contribution of the 20 million across the UK who volunteer every year, donating more than 100 million hours to their community every week. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of National Volunteers Week. For more information visit www.volunteersweek.org

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