Though Sheila and Sharon didn’t have their first conversation together until 2021, both had long – yet distinctly different – histories with ellenor.
Sheila’s ellenor journey began in the 1990’s, when she started volunteering for the hospice charity. A woman of many talents, Sheila juggled her role in ellenor’s reception alongside duties in the clinical admin team, as well as rounding up other volunteers to come and help. Plus, when the need arose, pitching in in ellenor’s kitchen, too.
“I did everything!” Sheila reminisces, smiling. “Because I enjoyed it so much.”
Sheila was still volunteering with ellenor when she was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes. And the woman who had given so much back to ellenor (Sheila received a long service badge for more than a decade of volunteering) came under its wing as a patient.
As for Sharon, her connection with ellenor also began with a diagnosis when her husband Peter was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004. ellenor stepped in, supporting the family from their home in the local community for the last two months of his life.
Like many locals, Sharon – who’s lived in Gravesend since 1997 – knew of ellenor. But it wasn’t until her family needed the hospice’s support that she gained a wider understanding of the wealth of services it provides.
“ellenor gave us excellent support,” Sharon remembers. “The nurses administered syringe drivers for him, helped get beds and carers lined up. They supported us, as a family, too.”
The quality of the care Sharon’s family received from ellenor made its mark. Because when 16 years later, Sharon – who already had vast voluntary experience at a similar charity, MacMillan – was looking for a different volunteer role, ellenor was the first name on her list.
And, in 2020, Sharon became a Befriender with ellenor.
The free service is available for both patients and carers. Befrienders like Sharon visit them, from the comfort of wherever they live in the local community, to lessen any feelings of isolation and loneliness they might experience – and provide welcome company.
“A lot of people who live on their own are lonely,” Sharon explains, “and they need communication. Everyone does, in whatever way: whether it’s face to face, or over the telephone. For me, everyone needs to know that there’s someone out there who cares.”
When Sharon became a Befriender with ellenor, lockdown laws were still in place. The COVID-19 pandemic continued to range, people were stuck at home – and, for those not living with family or friends, it was a lonely, isolating time.
In 2021, Sharon was introduced to Sheila – and the two hit it off immediately. In April, they had their first phone call – calls which have taken place, every week, ever since.
“We chat about all sorts of different things,” Sharon explains. “Family, work, problems – and where Sheila can go to sort them out. Basically, anything she wants to talk about, we talk about. Sometimes, she doesn’t feel like talking too much – that’s fine too. I still check in to see how she is, and she’s always grateful.”
“As a Befriender, you do get close to people; we look forward to speaking every week.”