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“I had only been in the hospital for a few minutes waiting to meet ‘Nurse Angel Annie’ and two people had already told me that woman is absolutely amazing – you will love her." I knew she was going to be special but the respect and admiration she had from the hospital staff was in abundance. I was really excited to meet her but also to find out what was so special about Annie?

After the initial team meeting, Annie came into the room with a cup of tea for me and I put her on the spot straightaway – ‘it’s the amazing Annie!’ I said. ‘Everyone loves you here – every person I’ve spoken to can’t speak more highly of you– I hope it’s your tea making skills?’ She laughed and said ‘I’ve been paying people off to give you a good first impression’.

I could tell straightaway that Annie had all the qualities of a great nurse - caring, gentle, warm and able to talk very easily and comfortably with anyone and everyone. Of course, she was a bit modest like anyone would be when presented by a question ‘Why are you so amazing?’ She went onto say ‘I really don’t know, I just do my job that I love so dearly. Velindre allows time that we are able to give our patients which is so important and I think from a specialist nurse point of view and on behalf of my other co-workers, it is a privilege to meet the patients and their families. I feel so humbled by their stories and journey, I have nothing but admiration for the families I see every day. One of Velindre’s core values is that nothing is too much trouble and I try to embody that every day with every patient. Doesn’t matter what job you do in Velindre, there is always someone who can help the patients.’

Annie looks after patients who have upper gastrointestinal cancers. These involve oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver and gall bladder. She explained that these cancers can be very difficult to detect, diagnose and treat because of the nature of where these cancers are. Unfortunately this means that some patients, at diagnosis, are too ill to receive treatment.

So what is a typical day like for a specialist nurse at Velindre? As I thought about how vastly different it must be to my day-to-day. Annie started off saying she has clinics every day. In a new patient clinic we see the patients for the first time after they have been through a long and difficult diagnostic pathway. Understandably this can be quite an anxious and distressing time. Pre chemotherapy clinics are where patients are reviewed who are undergoing treatment. CT scans are performed to monitor how effective the chemo is so quite often CT results are given.

‘It is so hard delivering scan results’. Annie mentioned a patient that morning who had her scan results where despite the chemotherapy, the cancer continued to grow. The discussion then is around trying a different type of chemotherapy, or, does the patient consider best supportive care. This means that they will not receive any active anti-cancer treatment because we know that their cancer cannot be cured, but have the help and support from the palliative care team in the community. I started to think the challenges I face in my job were absolutely minuscule to the harrowing real life scenarios that Annie goes through. A lump starts to form in my throat when I ask her a bit more about the difficult times.

‘I have seen patients who were only diagnosed with cancer a week or so before we see them following an acute admission to hospital. Sadly, all too often in these cases their cancer is so far advanced and they are so unwell, we are unable to offer any treatment and the conversation then turns to discussing what support is there for them all as a family and what, if any, wishes they may have for end of life care. These consultations, as I am sure you can imagine are very distressing and emotional”.

I started to think how in the world do you deliver that type of tragic news to someone? It’s bad news. The cancer has spread. The cancer has come back. Annie went on to say ‘It is usually a knee jerk reaction from the patient when they ask how long have I got left’ She explained that some of the patients actually don’t want to know but ask the question. So she explores this with them a little further and usually it is agreed that they will re-visit that question when the patient is more prepared to hear the answer…if they can be. She says that this is the type of conversation she has all too often with family members and friends of patients. "There is sometimes nothing that I can do to make it better. She says, “I always feel so helpless and the thought of them leaving Velindre after being given that news…………… how do they put one foot in front of the other then drive home and tell the family!! It’s a really small gesture on the grand scheme of things, but I can’t bear to see them leaving the hospital so I walk with them to their car."

Annie says there is a huge driving force which gets her up in the morning and motivates her to go to work every day. ‘One of the best things about the job and what inspires me are the patients’. Surprisingly she says that some of her patients tell her things that they have never told anyone else before and she goes on to say that she feels privileged to be that person who is needed to be that shoulder to cry on or that ear to listen.

This lady is incredible. The type of emotion and sorrow she has to witness and then will still manage to smile at the end of the day. I start to think she isn’t just a nurse and the more we kept speaking, I felt if you worked in Velindre you are also somewhat a counsellor and friend as well. We spoke about how being a nurse is having more than the skills you learn in university and that she always felt her destiny was to be a nurse. ‘I’m quite happy that I’m not necessarily moving up the career ladder but focusing on my vocation which is solely caring and giving time for my patients’.

I asked Annie if there were any stories in particular, from the many she deals with each day, was there one that she struggled to separate her emotions with her home life. She nodded quickly and started telling me about a young lad she got to know well during his treatment. It was during the Six Nations and it was just one line that he said which stuck with her - ‘Annie, I’m going to make the most of these games as I won’t be here next year to see them. He was lying in bed, watching on his iPad and for whatever reason that resonated with me deeply'. She says she does a lot of reflecting on her drive home and has cried many times, especially when a particular song comes on the radio and feels that music is so powerful.

A day in work for Annie is physically and emotionally demanding. However, she is going to have to find a bit of spare time as we come into 2018. Just like myself, we have both signed up for the West Coast Bike Ride for Velindre in September. We started talking about fund raising and Annie was quick to remark that she doesn’t like to ask people for fund raising so this is my plea – Please donate what you can to Annie’s page – she will hate me for saying that.

Annie has done numerous half marathons, and a full marathon, but this is the biggest challenge for her so far. ‘My husband is the athlete in the family – he does triathlons and half marathons, and when supporting him over the years at these events it was then that I decided I would set myself the challenge and did my first half marathon in Cardiff in 2014. I think I am about to trump him with my 600km bike ride in USA’.

Kylie, from fundraising, approached me about the bike ride earlier this year and when she said all the proceeds raised will be going to the CNS's, she said she really felt that she had no other option but to accept the challenge even though she has no sense on a bike (and thinking about it was making her bum hurt!!) Annie mentioned she had a particularly sad couple of weeks in work and was watching her husband taking part in the IronMan, the sun was shining and it was a glorious day and said to herself “How lucky am I that I can do this – because I can” Our patients face a marathon every day following a cancer diagnosis and I am sure if they could, they too would be up for the challenge. They would love to run a marathon, do a bike ride but instead they bear the struggle of their cancer, their treatment, emotions, finances and family – you name it, everything has an impact’.

Annie mentioned a quote from a relative that is on the application form for the ride ‘A man who lost his dad said his dad was up with the angels now after being with the angels on earth – the specialist nurses in Velindre’ – that touched me more than you could know. The money would make a huge difference to us. If it can part fund another Cancer Nurse Specialist post that means we have more people around to help is important.


Annie hopes to organise a ball to help her fund raising effort - ‘A themed evening with auction maybe, beautiful venue, hopefully sometime in June’. As we were wrapping up our chat, we were talking about how excited we were for this event even though it is a harrowing 600 kms. Along with her nursing tips on how to treat ‘chaffage’, to have Annie by my side will be a big motivation for me. When I talk about how nervous I am for the slog of training all next year, she mentions one more patient, a young mother who she is caring for, who said she doesn’t have the ability to do something like this as her cancer is quite advanced and the reality is that she might not survive beyond next September. That hit home and is going to stick with me through my fund raising and long, hard training days.

As we walked out through one of the waiting rooms, I saw a young mother in her 30s, a young lad who looked like a fit and healthy sportsman, an older lady surrounded by her family, and a business man – as the saying goes, cancer does not discriminate and cancer is still very much hell on earth for so many people.

Thank goodness though for the nurses at Velindre like Annie. Anyone who dedicates their lives to helping the most vulnerable people are heroes of the World. Being a nurse is in Annie's heart. There is no denying the strength, support, love and care the nurses provide their patients every day and how comforting is it to know we have these angels in Cardiff if we ever did need their help. Thank you Annie and thank you Velindre for all you, it will never not be appreciated. We ride for you and your patients.”

To support Annie, please visit her JustGiving Page here!



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Categories: Fundraising Stories, Upcoming Events

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