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I’ve been a nurse for 40 years. When I say that out loud, it feels like a very long time. Nursing has been such a huge part of my life. I’ve loved it.
I first started thinking about nursing as a career when I lost a dear friend, far too young, in a road traffic accident. Though I was completely heartbroken, there was a silver lining. From that point onwards I knew I wanted to spend my career helping others. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about how long I would do it for – when you’re that age, you just follow your instincts.
After a few years I became interested in looking after the mind as well as the body, and took a counselling diploma, followed by a job as a nurse counsellor. I’ve been working with cancer patients ever since.
Throughout my time as a cancer nurse I’ve seen up close how devastating this disease can be. From young single mothers resigned to living with stage-four cancer for the rest of their lives to entire families ripped apart by loss, cancer can pluck people from happy, healthy normality and turn their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, upside down.
As a student nurse, I got the best advice of my career from a sister, whose words still resonate now: “Treat every patient you meet as if they were your own mum or dad,” she said. “And that way you’ll never go wrong.” Forty years later, I still say that to the young nurses I meet.
The job is to be there for these people. Being there when they are receiving bad news, helping them through their treatment, and afterwards, when they’ve finished treatment, helping them adjust to what comes next.
At the end of the day, each patient is somebody’s mum or dad, brother or sister, husband or wife, son or daughter. Each one of them is important and deserving of care and support. Over the years, I’ve seen how important Macmillan’s work is, and how support from nurses like me can mean everything to patients enduring their darkest hours.
This isn’t just medical: we can help people access benefits they are entitled to, or emergency grants if they’re needed. From replacing a broken washing machine for a patient who can’t afford to fix it, to helping somebody with a terminal prognosis get married in a timely way: these things are just part of the job, but can make such a big difference when you’re going through cancer.
Somebody who I knew very well said to me once: “Every single day when I wake up, I remember that I’ve got cancer. Maybe it gets less as the years go on and you don’t think about it every hour, you might only think about it once a day, but it never goes away.” So we in turn need to keep being there for them.
Today marks 30 years of Coffee Morning, our annual fundraising event. It’s become more important than ever. All that Macmillan work, all the knowledge and understanding built over 100 years of experience, is paid for by donations. Yet the pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on Macmillan’s income and ability to fundraise.
Earlier this week, our devastated chief executive, Lynda Thomas, announced that, with a £175m shortfall in fundraising income by the end of 2022, the charity is proposing more than 300 redundancies so that frontline services and nurses, like me, can continue to do their vital work. This is happening during a pandemic that is having a crippling effect on cancer treatment and care. I’ve never known our situation to be so desperate. In fact, Macmillan has never needed the public’s help more.
People often ask me what it takes to be a Macmillan nurse. It’s a hard one to pin down. Empathy, of course, and compassion. The willingness to do all that you can do to take that extra step. To go a bit further – and then to keep going. We’ve been doing that for 109 years.
I feel incredibly proud to have done this job and to have worked with the patients for the length of time that I have. It’s a privilege to be accepted into people’s homes – and often their hearts – and to care for other people’s loved ones. It’s only with the public’s generous help that Macmillan will be able to continue that critical lifeline to people with cancer for hundreds of years to come.
• Lynda Hall is a Macmillan cancer nurse
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Covid-19 is threatening Macmillan’s vital cancer care. We need the public’s help | Lynda Hall | Opinion