How Weldmar’s support is like one big family – Val and Melanie’s Story
A unique perspective on how our different services come together to help patients and loved ones
Melanie Leyland has been a valued member of the Weldmar Hospicecare team for a decade, but over the past eighteen months has had a new perspective in which to view the charity – as a family member of someone who needed our services at the end of their life.
Her mum, Val, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in October 2018, news that sadly meant she was likely to be in the final year of her life. Clearly a traumatic time for Val and the family, and things were made more difficult when she broke her hip the day before her 66th birthday, meaning she was in a wheelchair from then on too. A difficult thing to face for someone who was so active, who enjoyed walking and going to the gym – every moment being taken up with an activity, and that was taken away quite suddenly.
As the diagnosis put Val in the final year of life, she was referred to Weldmar straight away. The Occupational Therapists visited her home for an assessment, and provided perching stools to support her out of her wheelchair, and taught her exercises to build up her strength so she could get up and around as much as possible.
Getting a stairlift installed meant she could go upstairs to bed as normal, and not be confined downstairs.
The Weldmar Community Nursing team would check in regularly, and the Assistant Practitioners helped her fill out all the relevant forms so she could get the allowances she was entitled to.
Melanie was also keen for Val to visit Day Services. “Right from the beginning, I said it would really lift her spirits, but she said she didn’t want to. In the end, I persuaded her to go, just for a coffee, and she ended up staying. It became important to her, and she looked forward to it every week. She had always been quite arty, and so she called it Art Club.”
One particular highlight for Val was riding on the back of a Harley Davidson. A Harley Chapter came to visit Day Services, and mum made a diary entry about it. She remembered getting into a leather jacket, and being lifted onto the bike by ‘a strong man called Ken’, and being asked how fast she would like to go – ‘as fast as you want!’, was her reply.
“Going to Day Services gave Dad a break”, says Melanie, “he was her carer, and although he felt lost when she was there, he knew he didn’t have to worry about her. She made some really good friends in the staff, volunteers and fellow patients, both like minded people who shared her passion for art, but also the kind of people she would never have met otherwise. ”
“Being at Day Services meant she didn’t have to think about her illness.”
“It was a good opportunity for her to be away from the family and do her own thing – mum never wanted to burden us with any of her troubles, so it helped her keep some independence.”
A lasting memory for Melanie and the family will be a piece of artwork. It was based on a picture they had seen on a day out to Forde Abbey Country Fair. “There was a stand that had an amazing photograph. It was something of an optical illusion – it was two trees that looked like four, and had a beautiful sunrise behind them. It looked like a family tree, and mum bought a postcard of it and gave it a go as her next art project.”
Val never got to finish the painting, and so Day Services volunteer Pat Beeson did so for her, and presented it to Melanie.
Pat says, “It was a privilege to do it for Val. Most of it was done – the background was done, the tree trunks were done – it was just a case of fine tuning. It would have meant an awful lot to Val to know it was finished, because her daughter meant an awful lot.”
Val passed away at Dorset County Hospital, when her condition deteriorated rapidly. Melanie had called Weldmar’s 24 Hour Advice Line for help, a service provided to patients and their loved ones. Although Val was admitted to DCH, her WCN Sarah kept in contact throughout, and has checked in with the family afterwards too. “Dad’s going to see a bereavement counsellor. We’re a close family so we’ve been working through it together, and we know the offer of help is there. From a staff member’s point of view, I have felt completely supported by all of my colleagues. People have said they don’t know how I could go back to work, but actually it’s a comfort because everyone is like family and they understand.”
So Melanie is a member of our People Services team, became a family member in Weldmar’s care, and now is a fundraiser too. She is taking part in the Jurassic Coast Challenge on Sunday, 17th May, walking the 26 mile route from Durdle Door to Studland.
“I’ve always wanted to do a marathon, but in my head I know I would never do that, so walking twenty six miles seemed like a good alternative! Not that I think it’ll be a breeze, I know it will be painful and difficult but I am really looking forward to it. I’m training by building up my distance walks, climbing steep hills on shorter walks, going to the gym, and I’ve even started running again as part of the Couch To 5k programme!”
“Anyone who knew mum knew what it meant to her to be able to come to Day Services, and would have seen the nurses coming in and out at home, so I think it’s a good time to raise as much money as possible.”
We thank Melanie for sharing her story. It shows how all the different parts of our charity come together for someone in our care – from Occupational Therapists to Community Nurses and Assistant Practitioners, our 24 Hour Advice Line, Day Services and Bereavement Support to the Fundraising Team. We can’t provide our services without you – why not choose to play our weekly Lottery as a simple and affordable way to support us?