Lisa McGarry tells us why she refers her patients for Willow Special Days... 

"I am the Chemotherapy Lead Nurse and Unit Manager at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in London, where I manage the chemotherapy day unit. It is a very busy hospital and one of the few that includes outpatients, a day unit and a ward in one area. Much of my role sees me undertaking many various responsibilities such as administering chemo for patients, running information sessions and nurse-led clinics to patients diagnosed with breast and colorectal cancer, and covering for the Ward and Outpatients manager.

I stumbled across Willow by chance, reading a leaflet in a colleague’s office one day.

I have gone on to refer five patients in total and will be referring many more after seeing what an enormous benefit a Special Day can offer. It is a real bonus for me to be able to tell my patients about Special Days. I show them the leaflet and explain even if they are not ready right now, it might be something to consider later on. They always agree it is a fantastic opportunity, something to look forward to. And patients are always pleasantly surprised to be given this good news.

Some patients are not always sure what they would like to do and find the guidance and suggestion from the team at Willow really useful, perhaps choosing a family break – one of my patients has just been to Butlins with her family. Others have a dream to fulfil – another patient had a passion for fishing and had a fishing trip arranged with his family – he was so happy to see his children enjoy his hobby. Sadly he is no longer with us but I know the family will have the special memories of the trip forever.

For me, the best thing about Willow is that it supports the psychological needs of a patient, and is about the whole family, not just one person.

We have to provide a great deal of information about medical treatment, but the psychological treatment can be just as important. For patients, their whole life is consumed with chemotherapy, surgery and doctors appointments – a Willow Special Day offers escapism, a chance to put everything else aside. And although patients’ children are not there during treatment, it is still very scary for them. The Special Day allows them to be a family, quality time for kids to spend with their parents and to live life like they used to. In the run up to the day I have seen renewed enthusiasm and excitement from my patients, and that is something very special.

Some patients worry they will not be well enough to enjoy a Special Day but they always tell me afterwards they had a wonderful time anyway – the adrenalin and happiness gets them through. When I saw my patient who had just got back from a family trip that Willow organised, I could see she looked visibly refreshed. She told me what a wonderful time her children had enjoyed, and that gave her a real boost, ready to face treatment again.

Cancer patients do not only have to deal with the side effects of treatment, there is also a financial burden. So as well as Willow taking the stress out of arranging the trip, covering the cost is a huge benefit too. Many patients have to cancel holidays when treatment begins, or they’re too unwell to be there for children during the school holidays. Willow bridges this gap. Once the Special Day is over, there is still the lasting memory – a positive to come out of something horrible.

Cancer changes you as a person, you are changed forever.

The long term effects are not just about the treatment, it is the psychological impact. Willow provides the family with a precious memory, even when a family member passes away. Life is all about making memories and it is inspiring to know Willow is led by patients and their families, offering a unique day that is all about happiness.

I take every opportunity to tell colleagues about the service this great charity are able to offer to their patients. We also give out leaflets in patient information sessions and to colleagues at our sister hospital.

Willow is truly amazing and I know that many more of my patients will go on to benefit from your service for many years to come."

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