I am 38 years old and was diagnosed in May 2018 with Stage 4B Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was petrified when they told me.
Before my diagnosis I was working but had been feeling poorly for a while. I’ve suffered with anxiety for many years and, as I’d lost a load of weight, the health services were treating me for an eating disorder. It was only when I discovered lumps under my armpit and was referred to Haematology that a biopsy confirmed Hodgkin's. I was frail and always related cancer to dying. Although the health services said they could make me better, I was very scared.
I had some support from friends and family: a sister who lives in Weymouth, and my Nan and Grandad, who were amazing. They cooked for me every day, helped with shopping and took me to my appointments.
When I needed regular journeys for chemotherapy, I was referred to the Elf transport team. The drivers were super-friendly and always reliable, which took some of my stress away. I was then referred to Elf@Home and during the first week in June was introduced to a befriending volunteer, Chris. This was not what I wanted at that time. I didn’t want someone else coming into my life. But my Nan said it would take some pressure off her and my sister convinced me it would be a good thing. Sue, the service manager, introduced me. I was super, super anxious and cancelled the first meeting, but Chris made another appointment, which I stuck with.
At that time, everyone I saw – friends, family, hospital staff – just talked about my health and hospital appointments. Chris talked about normal stuff, which really helped take my mind to a different place. She was very encouraging and helpful if I had questions. She understood.
Elf@Home has taught me a lot, including that I can be friends with a stranger. I have been able to open up to a point where I now look forward to Chris coming. I enjoy the general chit-chat. She tells me stories about her life; I tell her things. Now we’re at a stage where we’re planning activities together. I drive to the café for coffee and cake, we go for walks with my dog and we’re hoping to play racquetball when I’m stronger. This makes me want to get better. Chris is always there, she’s local to me and we’re now good friends. I still have a lot of anxiety but I’m looking forward to a future.
I’m hoping to get back into work but nervous about my ability to cope with that. To improve my confidence and to give something back to Elf for its support, I’m volunteering in Filling Time, the kiosk in Yarty ward. Volunteering came about because the only backup for Craig, the person running Filling Time, was agency staff. As I’d worked in catering before, I offered to help. Going to the hospital for a different reason has helped my anxiety. I used to feel very anxious before clinic appointments but I’m now much calmer. Volunteering helps the charity and it helps me. Even when I go back to work, I want to continue volunteering. I’ve worked two days on my own so far and feel confident covering for Craig’s annual leave.
I feel that Elf has played an active part in my recovery – it’s provided transport for appointments, given me friendship and reduced my anxiety, which was something I found so cripplingly hard. My Nan said recently that I’d overcome the biggest hurdle that will happen in my life. This has stayed with me and has given me the strength to face a personal fear… flying. My dream is to go to Disneyland. My Nan and I will be spending my next birthday in Euro Disney, travelling to France by plane!