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Úna’s marathon victory for Pilgrims

Posted on 22 August 2017

Úna's marathon victory for Pilgrims

Behind the scenes at Pilgrims Hospices a range of professionals – nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, counsellors and doctors – work together to support individual patients, families and carers throughout their journey.

Here, Pilgrims nurse Úna Leavy shares her personal experience of working at Pilgrims.

In addition to her role at the hospice, this year Úna completed the Virgin Money London Marathon in aid of Pilgrims Hospices, Alzheimer’s Society and Motor Neurone Disease Association.

What made you decide to take on the London Marathon?

I did it on a whim; when I was a community nurse in Ashford, my colleague was putting herself into the ballot so I decided to do the same. Neither of us got in, so we tried again the following year. I was so lucky to get a ballot place on my second time entering. I’ve since spoken to several people, patients’ families included, who have entered yearly without success. One particular family had three people who’d been trying for seven years to no avail. I feel very fortunate to have been given such an amazing (albeit frightening) opportunity.

I feel very fortunate to have been given such an amazing (albeit frightening) opportunity.

What was training like?

After not getting a place the first year, I had stopped “trying” to be a runner. I’d attempted Couch to 5k several times and never quite got there… but there’s nothing quite like having to run 26.2 miles to encourage you to complete your first 5k!

I started my Couch to 5k running plan on 31 October 2016; one minute of jogging (a ‘hoppy walk’, as I call it) and two minutes of walking. I also followed the first-time finisher plan. Although I missed some training sessions, I kept up with it. On 30 December I jogged continuously for 55 minutes and covered 4.1 miles; I was over the moon.

In January, I attended a special marathon training day. I was a fish out of water. Listening to other attendees, I discovered they were concerned about only being up to 13 miles in their training; my 4.56 miles suddenly paled in comparison. But not to be disheartened, I then completed the Llyd Half Marathon (my first ever half) on 12 March 2017. It was an amazing experience; I did it in 2 hours 54 minutes 31 seconds and ran the first 9 miles without stopping.

What was fundraising like?

A race night I organised raised more £1,000; local companies sponsored the races and friends, family and colleagues sponsored me. I also raised £80 by collecting and recycling textiles from friends and neighbours.

How did it feel to cross the finish line?

It was almost anti-climatic because the entire race was so amazing, but receiving my medal was phenomenal. The London Marathon was spectacular and so inspiring, and the support from spectators was incredible.

I’m so proud of myself – the self-belief that I can do things that seem so far out of my reach will stay with me forever.

Since completing the London Marathon, and in an attempt to get back into running, I’ve set up a running club. 10 members signed up in the first week, all of whom are Pilgrims staff; a great indicator of how well we work as a team and how supportive we are of one another.

What’s it like working at a Pilgrims hospice?

Before starting at Pilgrims in May 2016, I worked as a community nurse in the Ashford area. I really enjoyed working with patients receiving palliative care and felt it was an area of nursing I would like to work in. I was very lucky to get a role at Pilgrims just as I felt ready to move on; moving from one brilliant team in the community to an equally brilliant and cohesive team at Pilgrims, I can honestly say I haven’t looked back.

Palliative care is a very specialised area, and I’ve learned so much already in my time at Pilgrims. Alongside nurses, doctors and healthcare assistants we have specially trained staff to cover all aspects of patients’ and families’ needs, including:

  • Chaplains
  • Complementary therapists
  • Counsellors
  • Occupational therapists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Social workers.

We all share the same focus: patient-centred care.

What can Pilgrims offer to patients and their families in east Kent?

There’s a Therapy Centre at each hospice that families and patients – both inpatients and those who come in from home – can benefit from. We also have a community team of specialist nurses who care for patients in their own homes.

I’d recommend Pilgrims for anyone in east Kent living with an incurable illness. Our focus is on enabling patients to live well, and as they wish, whilst encouraging their full potential in mind, body and spirit.

As a community nurse, I supported a lot of people who required palliative care: psychological and emotional support and symptom control. Many of these people and their families believed the hospice was a place to go just before dying, and no amount of encouragement would get some of them to come through the door.

Years ago, I witnessed the work done by Pilgrims when a very close friend was admitted several times to get his symptoms under control. Once this was done, he went home again. After experiencing Pilgrims from a family / friend perspective, I’m able to give a truly informed opinion on the care given here. Without hesitation, I would recommend Pilgrims for anyone in east Kent who is living with an incurable illness.

Our focus is on enabling patients to live well, and as they wish, whilst encouraging their full potential in mind, body and spirit. Pilgrims has a revolving door, allowing patients to be treated as an inpatient if / as required but focusing always on the patient’s true desire, which for most is to return to their own homes be surrounded by their loved ones. That said, many patients admitted to Pilgrims frequently don’t want to leave, as they feel so safe, protected and cared for here.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I feel lucky to be part of the Pilgrims team. The service we provide here is second to none, and this is proven by the consistent positive feedback we get from patients and their families. It is, without a doubt, a very challenging place to work – it’s not an easy job and it an play havoc with your emotions – but I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. The support I receive from my colleagues enables me to enjoy working in what can be a very upsetting environment; I’ve lost count of the number of appropriately timed hugs I’ve received from them.

It’s an honour and privilege, and truly humbling, to be allowed to care for people at a time in their lives that is so incredibly difficult.

So many of the staff at Pilgrims have been here since it opened, which is a testament to the kind of place it is to work. Contrary to popular belief, hospices are not sullen or depressing places; in fact, the opposite is true. The work I’ve done here during the last 14 months, and the job satisfaction I’ve experienced, far outweigh the difficulties faced on the job. It’s an honour and privilege, and truly humbling, to be allowed to care for people at a time in their lives that is so incredibly difficult. To feel that I can make a difference, however small, to them and their loved ones makes it all worthwhile.

Working at Pilgrims really helps me to appreciate the here and now – to live in the moment, to value the little things in life and to find time for things that make me happy.

If you’d like to follow in Úna’s footsteps and take on an event or challenge for Pilgrims, check out the range of ways you can get involved year-round.

Our Wellbeing and Social Programme is free for patients who are in the later stages of a life limiting illness, and their families. It aims to enhance their wellbeing in mind and body.

The first step is to talk to your GP or healthcare professional. They can advise whether the programme is right for you. More information is available here.


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