Fiona’s wonderful daughter, Donna, came to the Hospice 13 years ago at the age of 13 for end of life care but thankfully pulled through and started coming for specialist short breaks on our Children and Young Adults Unit until she turned 25 last year. Fiona tells us more about her volunteering story and how she sees volunteering as her way of repaying St Oswald’s Hospice for their care and support when she needed it the most:
“Before the pandemic I began volunteering in the Chapel on a Wednesday but as the services had to stop I then became a Patient Support Volunteer in July 2021. Fast forward to now and I’m also doing something that has been a lifelong dream of mine – to be a Volunteer Chaplain at the Hospice. If you told me even just a few years ago that this is something I’d be doing now, I wouldn’t have believed you, and it’s all down to the love and support of people at the Hospice.
“I always wanted to train as a Reader with the Church of England and work as a Chaplain but because of Donna’s complex needs she came first. When Donna’s health started to deteriorate I decided to put my dreams on hold as I never thought I’d be able to study at university, do placements and be Donna’s mum and full time carer. Donna is now 25 and has lived longer than anyone could have thought possible. She was and still is my priority but the Hospice helped me to see that I could do things for myself as well’.
Davina Radford, (Spiritual Care Lead at the Hospice and Fiona’s volunteer link) helped Fiona to see that she could make time for herself as well as be an amazing mum to Donna. Fiona explains:
“After Donna came home from a three month hospital stay, where she had been critically ill, I really struggled leaving her for short breaks at the Hospice and didn’t want her returning to her special needs college. Owen (Associate Specialist) and Davina suggested I seen Anne Pelham (Palliative Care Consultant specialising in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)) to overcome this anxiety. At first I was reluctant and felt I shouldn’t need CBT as Donna had been very poorly in intensive care many times and I had always been ok when she got home. Thankfully I was talked around and seeing Anne was the best decision I could have made.
“It was Anne who suggested I chat to Davina about what my long term career dream was as Davina herself had been a Reader and also a Chaplain. She also explained to me it could be possible to start my training and then if necessary have time out and restart after Donna passed away. This was something I’d never even considered or thought possible. When I had my sessions Davina would look after Donna for me which was a huge help and she really went above and beyond to support me. Now when I drop Donna off at college I’m more relaxed about leaving her. We now have our own lives and enjoy time apart as well as together.
“Donna goes to college five days a week so I volunteer all day on a Thursday in Focus on Living. Then I do two half days on a Monday and Friday on the Inpatient Ward chatting to and supporting the patients and their families. I also help with special events and loved leading the Easter Day Service in the Chapel. I literally bounce through the doors as I’m so much happier and content now. I feel I have my own purpose and my life is no longer on hold.
“I enjoy the variation of my roles. On a Thursday I support the Ambulatory Care Patients, who I’ve got to know quite well and I really feel part of the Focus on Living Team and on a Monday and Friday I spend time chatting to inpatients and their families. I have the best of both worlds now and being able to also get involved with Services is the icing on the cake! Everyone at the Hospice is very patient focussed, no matter what their role is they are all there for the same purpose. I truly believe I couldn’t have a better role. It’s such a privilege and honour to share in someone’s life at such a difficult time.”
When asked what motivates Fiona to volunteer when she already has such a busy life, she said:
“I 100% do it to give back to the Hospice. They were there for me when I was told Donna was going to die and since then they’ve cared for Donna, supported me to be me again and I know they’ll be there for me when the time comes and Donna dies. Volunteering is so rewarding, it’s been a gentle way of getting me back into something that I can do for myself that isn’t about Donna – although she’ll often come to the Hospice with me and loves to get involved with meetings and Services!”
Fiona has now completed two years of her reader training course with Newcastle Dioceses (Church of England) and finished her chaplaincy training after doing her placement here at the Hospice. We’re thrilled that Fiona is fulfilling her dreams and wish her lots of luck for her final year at university.
If you’re feeling inspired by Fiona’s story, we have a wide range of volunteering opportunities available, find out more at www.stoswaldsuk.org/volunteer