In February 2011 and, at the age of 34, I was told I was clear of cancer for the second time in my life. A lot had changed in my life, both physically and mentally, and having shared and reflected on the news, I wondered, “So, now what?”
I had been working for the NHS up until December 2009, at which point I had gone on long-term sickness. Due to the length of time I’d worked there I received four months full pay followed by four months of half pay and I then had to claim the much vaunted ESA (Employment and Support Allowance). I was offered the chance to resign from the NHS in exchange for a severance payment. They took great pains to stress that this was not redundancy but part of a cost-saving exercise! Having been away for so long, combined with various other issues I was facing there, I decided I really couldn’t face returning to such an environment so I took the money and ran.
However the “Now what?” question played on my mind. I had no job and very little energy… but with no immediate need to earn money I felt I could explore other options. I`ve always tried to help others and volunteering seemed to fit the bill (and it would be a chance to help out, gain new experiences and meet people without over committing myself given my condition at that time)
During the time I was off work (when energy levels and time allowed) I had written several articles and reviews for the magazine of Disabled Motoring UK, including one on employment issues facing disabled people. This led to being asked to give a presentation at a new event aimed at attracting younger members to the charity. I was asked to talk about preparing for employment, producing a CV and developing effective interview skills. I produced a handout for people to take away afterwards and, though nervous, took the stage. Afterwards, the Chief Executive of the organisation approached me to discuss an upcoming event that would promote the charity and raise awareness of issues facing disabled motorists. The event was the re-creation of the founders’ trip across the Swiss Alps on his 1938 mobility tricycle, and I was asked if I’d be interested in taking part. I jumped at the chance and in June 2011, The Alps Challenge took place!
It was on my return that I was elected onto the board of Trustees and joined the Membership committee, a position I still hold today. I regularly travel up and down the UK attending events and shows, occasionally assisting members with problems and I still write for the magazine and am working hard to continually attract new members.
Thanks to my participation in the Alps Challenge, I was nominated to be a Torchbearer during the Olympic Torch Parade! I made it through to the final round of selection and although I was ultimately unsuccessful, I felt honoured to have been nominated!
In March 2011, I was referred to the NHS’ Expert Patient Programme, which aims to educate people living with long-term conditions and help them to be more confident when dealing with health care professionals. The basic premise is that the person is the best expert when it comes to his or her own condition. This course is 6 weeks long and at the end, I felt I`d gained both in terms of confidence and knowledge! When the tutors explained that they were volunteers and asked if anyone else would like to volunteer, I eagerly signed up! I now look after NHS Kirklees’ Self Care Twitter and Facebook accounts. As trained tutor, I have already delivered one Expert Patient course.
At some point towards the end of 2011, I became aware (via Twitter) of a local cancer support charity named Cancer Support Bradford and Airedale. They required support at various events and in the fundraising office, so I offered to spend some time helping out. Friday January 13th 2012 (my 35th Birthday!) found me at a Morrison’s store in Bradford at a CSBA bag-packing event and I even signed up to do a zip slide from the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle on June 16th 2012 – quite why, I don’t know, but it seemed a good idea at the time!
Initially, I started providing admin support in the fundraising office for 3 hours on a Thursday and I now offer three hours on a Thursday and Friday there. I`ve learnt a lot in the past couple of months – this volunteering work keeps my brain active and I’m learning more about fundraising (I`d like to think my help is allowing the fundraisers to concentrate more on what they’re supposed to be doing as well!)
Continuing the voluntary theme, when Disabled Motoring UK mentioned that LOCOG (the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) was looking for several disabled drivers to volunteer to drive officials and athletes around during the Games, I jumped at the chance! I applied and, after an interview, was accepted! This should be a great chance to boost my confidence and make new friends.
During the Olympics, I had a brand new BMW 3 series saloon, adapted for me to drive. It had only just been delivered and registered when I got my hands on it and the only automatic car in the fleet of around 4000! What a fantastic once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!