Hello my name’s Heather, and I am a Chemo Chum.
22 January 2020
I volunteer in the Chemo Suite, situated in Leeds Cancer Centre, St James’s (affectionately known as Jimmy’s).
I was so impressed as a previous patient that I now volunteer as a Chemo Chum! At a time when I was at my most vulnerable, the staff took great care of me. I had every confidence in my emergency team, even if sometimes, I didn’t have much in myself. They cared for me, kept me informed, and supported me weekly for 16 weeks. I am still a cancer patient; still being monitored, I believe in helping others to help themselves. I had an excellent experience in the unit; I also want everyone else to, that’s why I came up with “Chemo Chum”.
As patients, we are advised to rid ourselves of as much negative stress as possible. This is “as important” as any treatment we receive. Not quite important, but “as important!” This is at a time when we all experience a whole new wave of stress.
I decided to be a Chemo Chum; assisting my fellow patients as they receive their own individual treatment; chemotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted therapy. I coach patients, but I also give them someone to talk to, share with, play games with, and also be their arms and legs whilst they are “tethered” to their chemo chair having their treatment. I can do the little things that the team can’t do as their whole function is to keep us all safe. The average treatment time is about 4 hours, sometimes with a Cooling Cap set at -6 degrees. Mine was 7 ½ or 9 ½ hours weekly. To a patient the time in the suite drags. Distractions are a good idea, with lots of ways to entertain patients. When folk become bored, they tend to become more anxious.
My aim is to keep patients Calm, Comfortable, and Confident. Calm by hopefully eliminating some of their anxieties. Comfortable by being their arms and legs whilst they are hooked up to their treatment; (I can get anything they need or want, from a heat pad to a Cornish pasty from Gledhow wing whatever it takes to improve their treatment day). Confident by letting them see that my hair is normal, my skin is clear, my eyelashes and eyebrows have returned. I did this, and they can do it too. We currently have 55 chairs, but can treat 100 patients per day!
I have made progress to add some extra touches or distractions to aid my fellow patients during treatment day, these include: current magazines in all bays (folk don’t always have the time, energy, or money to bring something). Some free of charge papers (to stay in touch with local news). Books and cards we sell for a donation. Magnifying sheets (as the medications can make our eyesight “blurry”), so folk can still read if they choose to. Scarves and hats, that gives both warmth and confidence to those without hair.
I approach the suppliers and manufacturers of the things I considered to be my “tools” which aided me through Chemo. I explain I am a Chemo Chum, and ask them for discounts to make my donation money stretch a little further. Of course, if they wish to, I’ll accept a donation.
Heather Parker, Chemo Chum.