We couldn’t do our valuable work without the support of our volunteers – their help is essential. But how does their volunteering work help them? Hear first-hand from our volunteers about how they benefit from the work they do with us:
- Susan Johnston - Beauty Therapist
Susan Johnston, from Hillsborough, is our lead Nail Bar volunteer. In 2012, Susan, a trained beauty therapist, approached Cancer Focus NI to ask if there were any volunteering opportunities in her field. Since then, Susan has been instrumental in establishing a weekly nail bar at the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital so that women undergoing treatment have a welcome distraction.
Susan said: “I feel an enormous satisfaction helping with this service. There’s a growing demand for this type of patient support and I’d ask any therapists who can give some of their time each week to please do so. They’d undoubtedly feel the same satisfaction that I do, it’s so worthwhile and rewarding for everyone.”
Dervilia Kernaghan, our Head of Care Services, said: “Susan has become an invaluable part of our service. Her energy and enthusiasm shines through and all the patients speak so highly of her.
“Our service is extremely busy and we’re indebted to the time Susan gives to help Cancer Focus NI reach as many patients as possible. We also hold workshops and are constantly expanding the services and recruiting new volunteers, so if you have NVQ Level 2 in Beauty Therapy or above and time on your hands, please get in touch!”
- Jim Campbell - Volunteer Driver and Cancer Focus NI Ambassador
Jim is one of a number of core volunteers for Cancer Focus NI – starting with us in 2009 as a volunteer driver and over the years taking on extra roles like delivering collection boxes or talking to people at information stands, not to mention getting involved in all sorts of activities from bag packing to bucket collections to marshalling events. He is an amazing representative of the charity and a huge part of our staff and volunteer team and always cheers us up when he calls. We asked him to tell us in his own words his experience of volunteering –
How long have you been volunteering with Cancer Focus NI?
“I began volunteering with Cancer Focus NI, or Ulster Cancer Foundation as it was then, about 10 years ago after finding a flyer in my letterbox asking for volunteers for a driving service. As I’ve enjoyed driving for over 50 years and as I also enjoy helping people, I thought it was an ideal opportunity to combine the two.
Why did you start volunteering?
Both my parents died following cancer related illnesses over 30 years ago. All my working lift I’ve been in reasonably close touch with a very diverse cross-section of the public, of all colours, classes and religions (or none), and after retiring about 12 years ago I missed that regular interaction.
What do you enjoy most about your driving role?
The people I meet through my CFNI driving duties come from all walks of life, and are all in various stages of treatment. Without exception, all have expressed their appreciation for the driving service, as it removes one concern during a worrying time.
You volunteer in many other ways – at outdoor events, fundraisers and in the office. What attracts you to the different activities?
I think of my volunteering work with CFNI as my main hobby, and love to get involved in other activities as well as driving. So far I’ve helped out with marshalling at some outdoor events, supermarket bag packing, street collections, envelope stuffing, sun care bracelet making, manning information stands and lots more. Generally speaking, the more I can lend a hand, the more I am pleased.
I get a buzz out of helping where and when I am able but, apart from the driving, I especially enjoy my other regular role which is servicing the collection boxes in various businesses throughout Bangor. In just over 2 years I have been able to double the number of local businesses taking our boxes – promoting the name of Cancer Focus NI and bringing in much needed funds.
Several of the business owners now recognise me when I call to swap “a noisy box for a silent one” as I put it. I just love to uplift those noisy, heavy boxoes of small change. One business in particular has raised well over £4000 in two years and when I heard that figure a few weeks ago it gave me a great buzz.
Other events I really enjoy helping at are the recent Run Mucker Run challenge in Ballymoney and the annual Comber Coffee Morning.
How much time do you spend volunteering?
I’ve no idea just how long I spend on volunteering, but whatever the length, it is time really well spent, and generally isn’t as much time as I’d like to spend.
What would you say to anyone thinking of volunteering?
Volunteering with Cancer Focus NI is something I can heartily recommend to anyone even slightly interested. It is really lovely to meet up with, whether personally or on the phone, all the folk at the Eglantine Ave office, who I like to think of as my friends. They are, without exception, always very helpful, friendly and sharing. The same goes for the fairly rare occasions when I meet other volunteers, whether they be drivers or other volunteers in the office or at events. I may not always remember their names but I like to think they forgive me and allow me to call them my friends.
- Rohan Komatt - Leaflet Distributor
Rohan Komatt, from Belfast, volunteers as a Leaflet Distributor, helping to increase awareness of the charity and our services in his local area. He said: “It’s a cause close to my heart as my own family has been affected by cancer – both my mum and dad had cancer – and this has made me more aware of its devastating effects and impact it has on families. This, along with the caring ethos of Cancer Focus NI, has inspired me to become a volunteer.
“As a volunteer for Cancer Focus NI, I’m involved in various activities. My present role as Cancer Focus NI Leaflet Distributor is an exciting opportunity to make local businesses, communities and the general public more aware of the charity’s work, to provide information on staying healthy and to promote Cancer Focus NI. I enjoy the involvement with the general public in creating awareness and know that in a small but significant way I’m helping people.
“Working as a volunteer for Cancer Focus NI gives me the opportunity to meet and share ideas and information of my experiences with other volunteers. It’s also a way of making friends and bonding with people of different backgrounds and cultures.
“In a nutshell, I thoroughly enjoy volunteering and would recommend everyone who has time to spare to come along – in return you get a huge amount of satisfaction and self-fulfilment.”
- Cathy Hillock - Driving Service Volunteer
Cathy Hillock, from Lisburn, has been a driver with our Driving Service since it began in 2009.
Cathy said: “I became a volunteer driver after seeing an advert in a newspaper.
“I’d given up full-time work due to my own disability. I’d lost both my parents to cancer and I felt this was one way I could do something to help those who had no access to transport be attend their appointments. This means that patients can leave hospital as soon as they’ve finished their treatment without having to wait possibly for hours for hospital transport to take them home.
“At first, I was apprehensive about driving patients with cancer to the hospital as I thought it might have been slightly depressing. How wrong I was – during my many drives I’ve shared lots of laughter with my passengers. They’ve shared their thoughts and I’ve heard about their families, and I’ve found many to be an inspiration. I love it because it is so different to what I did before and I’ve been able to catch up on some of my audiobooks going to and coming from the patients.
“I’ve also been able to help in the Cancer Focus NI office with office administration, which gives me a welcome taste of all the things I missed so much when I left work. I’d encourage people to think about volunteering as it’s so rewarding and lots of fun.”
- Florence Young - Retail Assistant
Florence Young was inspired to help Cancer Focus Northern Ireland in the Lisburn shop whilst recovering from breast cancer – she wanted to give something back.
“My volunteering role is on the shop floor which is always busy and has a great atmosphere. I serve customers at the till and our customers often ask me to advise them on outfits and accessories which I love doing. I help with displays and keeping the shop floor neat and tidy.’
‘I volunteer because after my cancer treatment had finished I lost my confidence and volunteering in such a friendly, positive environment has given me my confidence back. It is a beautiful shop and the atmosphere is lovely. It inspires positivity and I look forward to going in on my days and I leave feeling happy.’
‘Working on the shop floor it is important to be friendly, reliable, patient, and have a genuine love and interest in fashion and working with the public.’
‘I enjoy the social side of volunteering; the chat with customers and the laughs and chat with the other volunteers is lovely. We have such a great time of all ages and we all get on so well together.’
‘The advice I would give someone starting to volunteer is not to be nervous as it is such a welcoming environment. Your time will be greatly appreciated and you will learn lots of new skills, from using the till to co-ordinating outfits. There is no pressure put on you, your volunteering role will work around your life and commitments, but most of all you will love it.’
- Alice Warde - Administration Volunteer
Alice Warde took early retirement in January 2011 and, while she enjoyed not having the daily commitment of work, she decided that she needed something to occupy her time.
“I didn’t immediately rush into volunteering with any organisation but when I received the information from Cancer Focus NI, and they needed administration tasks completed, I decided to look in to it.
“After my ‘getting to know you chat’ with Morag, the charity’s volunteer coordinator, I really felt at ease as she was able to correctly match my skills with the jobs that she needed done by a volunteer. I was shown around the building and quickly got to know all of the other staff who are always very friendly and appreciative.
“Personally I volunteer one day a week in the office of Cancer Focus NI and I’m always very well look after – I have made some fantastic friends both with the other volunteers and with the staff at the office. I don’t have a particular reason for volunteering other than that it makes me feel useful and that I feel I am making a difference.”
- Claire Nicholls - Nail Bar Volunteer
Claire Nicholls is a qualified Beauty Therapist and has volunteered with our Nail Bar Service in Bridgewater Suite, Belfast City Hospital, since May 2017.
Not only does Claire give up her time each month but we want to say a big THANK YOU to Claire as she has also raised funds for the service that were used to buy nail polish, polish remover and other resources that we constantly need to maintain this complimentary service.
All Cancer Focus NI services are free to the user so every £1 donated means we can invest more in providing a little luxury for anyone waiting for cancer treatments, and their companions.
- Nicola Connolly - Volunteer Nail Technician
Dunmurry beauty therapist Nicola Connolly, who has survived two diagnoses of cancer, says that she wants to help patients by volunteering for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland’s nail bar service.
“After seeing a Cancer Focus NI appeal for more volunteers on Facebook. I thought I would love to get involved. I set aside a few hours once a month for Cancer Focus NI at the City Hospital. It’s something I love doing. The nail bar is the perfect way I can help and it’s a fabulous little treat and a bit of craic for the patients. Over the months you also tend to meet the same people and feel a connection with them.
“I love to use my skills to do something special for people that they appreciate and enjoy. It’s lovely to be able to put a smile on faces and see them leave feeling chirpy. It gives me a warm feeling inside and a huge sense of satisfaction.”
- Daniel Molloy - Events Volunteer
Daniel Molloy makes a HUGE difference for Cancer Focus NI started volunteering as a retail assistant in 2015 in our Ormeau Road shop. This has led to employment with us as a ‘bank manager,’ working within all our shops wherever needed. Daniel is a remarkable volunteer and continues to help us at collections, bag packs and events.
Daniel said: “Volunteering at cancer focus isn’t just going in and doing a couple of jobs and leaving, it’s so much more than that. Through cancer focus I’ve met my best friends and my second family, I’ve been welcomed as who I am and even had the courage to come out as transgender. Cancer focus is an amazing place to volunteer. “
- Peter Branker - Events Volunteer
Peter Branker wanted to support Cancer Focus Northern Ireland to give something back after having had his own cancer diagnosis on three separate occasions. Peter has volunteered at events such as the Belfast Marathon, cycling events, street collections and most recently the Pink Run.
‘I volunteer with Cancer Focus NI as I understand the importance of the work that they do. In years gone by the most important thing for someone diagnosed with cancer was to find appropriate treatments and hopefully a cure where possible, and there was very little focus on a patient’s wellbeing and other support they or their family and friends may require. I really love the fact that there is so much on offer to those affected by cancer nowadays and Cancer Focus NI is at the centre of this work, providing a wide range of support services.
I believe that if there’s one thing everyone should do in life, it’s volunteering and volunteering with Cancer Focus is absolutely fantastic. I have been very lucky to meet so many fantastic volunteers and staff from all walks of life, and it gives me enormous satisfaction knowing that I’m contributing to a charity that makes such a difference.’
- Kelly Armstrong - Nail Bar Volunteer
Kelly Armstrong volunteers every week at our nail bar in the Mandeville Unit in Craigavon Hospital providing patients with complimentary manicures, hand and arm massages. Kelly, who lost her mum to cancer, started volunteering with Cancer Focus Northern Ireland earlier this year because she wants to help bring a smile to people’s faces during a difficult time.
“I just love volunteering in the clinic – to put a smile on someone’s face who is feeling vulnerable and scared is priceless and it’s a privilege to be able to do that. Everyone deserves to feel good about themselves in life, no matter where they are on their journey,” Kelly said.
“I’ve always wanted to work with cancer patients. Cancer unfortunately affects so many, the journey is long and it’s filled with a rollercoaster of emotions along the way. When I was taking care of my mummy, giving her facials and painting her toes, I loved to see the delight on her face, words don’t cover it. She had lung cancer which spread to her brain and sadly I had to say goodbye to her in August 2016.
“My dad has battled cancer twice, once in his throat, then in his lung. He has just completed London Marathon in 5 hours 24 with a quarter of his lung removed. I have empathy and an understanding of how cancer can affect patients and their families. Sometimes a smile can speak a thousand words when words are sometimes not welcome nor needed. My volunteer role at Cancer Focus NI allows me to give people that smile.”
- Elaine - Bra-Fitting Volunteer
Elaine has been a bra-fitting volunteer for the last three years, helping women who have had breast surgery and require specialist underwear or swimwear.
“I get so much out of volunteering. I’m helping ladies feel better about themselves and their body image. I’m constantly meeting new people who all need a listening ear. I’m not a counsellor but I can direct the patients to the appropriate Cancer Focus NI services. I have been challenged, taken out of my comfort zone and am constantly learning new skills.”
Elaine supports Cancer Focus NI in many ways – she also attends health and wellbeing events on behalf of the charity as well as distributing literature about their services to health centres in her local area.
She added: “If I was talking to someone who was volunteering for the first time I would advise them to try different roles and work out which one suits them. I think that it’s important to be flexible and open minded but to find something that you enjoy as you really can’t give if you are not at ease with what you are doing.
“I find volunteering very humbling and think that it’s very important to give back. I was never in a position to do so but now that I have time I just feel that it is the right thing for me to do.”
- Heather Eves - Family Support Volunteer
Heather Eves has been a Cancer Focus NI family support volunteer for the last eight years, helping parents who have been given a terminal cancer diagnosis to leave messages, stories and letters for their loved ones to read in the future.
“As a parent there is a powerful drive to protect and nurture your child. The realisation that you are not going to be there to do that is almost intolerable. Yet with support and some structure, a mum or dad can do far more than they ever thought they could, and there can be both relief and comfort in that,” Heather said.
“I visit a parent in hospital, at their home or in the hospice and work with them one to one, helping them talk about the things that are important to them and important to their children.
“The conversations are recorded and then I transcribe them. The benefit of this method is that when the parent checks it over they say ‘It sounds just like me’ and they accomplish far more than they ever thought they could.
“With the addition of their photographs, I usually make a book for them, a treasure book for their child. Sometimes the lack of time or circumstances mean we can’t create a book so sometimes it’s a letter,” she explained.
Volunteering has been a massive part of Heather’s life for many years. “Volunteering is just part of life. My first volunteering role was when I was 14. There was a flu epidemic at the time and I heard on the radio that lots of nurses were off sick, so I went to Bangor hospital and asked if I could help,” recalled Heather, who later trained as a nurse.
“Volunteering enlarges your world and brings perspective to it. Do something you have an interest in or feel passionate about. Or just start and you’ll find a passion along the way.”
- Sue Pegrum - Driver and Health Events Volunteer
Retired Co Down nurse Sue Pegrum, who worked on the Cancer Focus Northern Ireland NurseLine for three years finds volunteering with the charity so rewarding and a terrific learning experience.
Sue worked in cancer and palliative care for much of her career and has a passion for Cancer Focus NI and cancer care having seen at close quarters the difference the charity has made to patients and their family and friends.
“It was while I was working for Cancer Focus NI between 2013-2016 on their NurseLine and Keeping Well Van that I started volunteering for bucket collections,” she said.
“I worked in cancer and palliative care for much of my career and have always had a heart for this role, so it seemed logical to focus my volunteer activities in this direction. Once I retired from the NurseLine in 2016, I was able to expand my volunteer role to include driving and cancer health events – my experience and transferable skills seemed a good fit for these activities – and I also had more time to help at fundraising events and bag packs.
“I enjoy volunteering for Cancer Focus NI because it keeps me in touch with life after work and is very fulfilling – a real privilege. All the roles are fulfilling and invaluable, both to those we support and to the organisation as a whole. We all have something to offer, personal attributes, skills, experience and a sense of fun. So go for it, volunteer!”