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Losing loved ones inspires Nicola to care for others

Therapy assistant Nicola Walmsley knew she wanted to work in the care sector after losing her father and a close friend to cancer.

She first came into ellenor as a carer for a patient attending one of the many Therapeutic Activity Groups they offer and enjoyed the atmosphere so much that when she saw a job advertised, she decided to apply. She started her new job this Spring.

Nicola said: “I had a friend who was diagnosed with cancer and died at the hospice when she was 47. I saw everything they did for her, and I really wanted a job that was going to give something back. I also lost my dad 12 years ago to cancer and that made me want to do something that meant a bit more.

“I’ve been in the care industry now for the past nine years – it all started after losing my dad. It’s not about how much you get paid; it’s about helping people.”

After meeting husband Lee and moving to the area from the Isle of Sheppey Nicola started working for a care provider, going out to visit clients in their homes. She was promoted to a care supervisor then to a training manager but found herself doing too much travelling. She missed interacting directly with people needing care and their families.

She said: “To me it’s about the people and not having to rush around.”

Nicola has joined newly employed Stacey Mancini, and experienced Apprentice Occupational Therapist, Shania Allsop within the Therapy Assistant team. They work mostly at The Manor Hotel, Gravesend, while building work is carried out to create a state-of-the-art new Wellbeing centre at ellenor’s hospice. They have also been helping patients on the ward in Northfleet.

“It’s lovely to have a one to one with a patient,” said Nicola. “I enjoy spending quality time with them, maybe just doing something like a puzzle. One lady that I met in the hospice told me how much she loves Eeyore – and we had that in common straight away. What a coincidence!”

Nicola knew about ellenor’s end-of-life care but now she knows how important the charity views the Wellbeing side of its services.

She said: “It’s fantastic what they do, especially with the complementary therapists and the counsellors – and it’s not just for the patients, it’s for their families and carers too.

“Coming to work at ellenor is the best thing I have ever done. I find it so rewarding to see people smile and to watch them do things they enjoy doing. The activities are so therapeutic, like making Easter bunnies out of socks for instance. A lot of people don’t realise how many activities are therapeutic.”

The therapy assistants have most bases covered when it comes to helping ellenor’s patients and their families to access the charity’s many varied Wellbeing activities.

Nicola said: “I am doing the arts and crafts; Stacey loves the quizzes and games, and Shania really helps us to ensure that everything has a therapeutic focus. We have started to put together a programme of events so the patients know what is on offer every day.”

After being with her friend and her dad on their cancer journeys, Nicola feels she has a rapport with patients who have life limiting illnesses.

Her dad’s death was especially difficult for Nicola and her family as it was just two weeks after his diagnosis.

She said: “We managed to get him home from hospital, which is what he wanted. Caring for him and getting to know his carers in those final days is really what made me decide it was the area I wanted to work in. Before that I had a job in admin, but what I went through with my dad made me a stronger person.

“I’m still emotional but I’m at peace with what I do. I deal with it and put my emotions in the right place. I need to be strong for the patients and their families. Some of them just like to talk, and to be able to off-load some of their feelings. Having someone to talk to is so important.

“We can also point them in the right direction and make sure they are getting all the resources and financial help they are entitled to.”

Nicola particularly enjoys ellenor’s music group on a Wednesday morning.

“It’s wonderful to see a dementia patient, for instance, with a smile on their face, or singing along.”

When family-orientated Nicola met Lee, they were both on weight loss journeys and had also both recently lost their fathers – so they were kindred spirits.

She said: “I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband. He can see how much caring for people means to me and he has also noticed how much happier and more relaxed I am. It’s a different pace working at ellenor.”

The couple have been through challenging times themselves after Lee was hospitalised after contracting Covid and then suffered a brain bleed. He was diagnosed with a pituitary tumour, which he is now waiting to have removed. Nicola also helps to care for her mum and her aunty.

She said: “They have been so fantastic about it at ellenor. It’s a caring environment so they care for their staff too. I can relate to people here. I enjoy helping others – and that’s me. I’m happy to be that sort of person.

“If you are just doing it for a job, it’s not worth it because it’s hard work. You must genuinely care to work in this industry. You must want to do it for the right reasons. You can empathise with the patients, but you also need to remain professional so they can feel stronger.”

If you would like to find out more about our Wellbeing services, please click here www.ellenor.org/our-care.