I’ve been volunteering with Paul's Cancer Support Centre as a massage therapist on their Home Visiting Service (HVS) team for just over a year now. Paul’s is based in Clapham Junction and the charity offers a range of one-to-one touch and talk therapies as well as classes such as yoga and meditation to people with cancer and their carers. The HVS has been going since 1995 and volunteer massage therapists, reflexologists, counsellors and befrienders provide free support to people with cancer who may be house bound for any reason. We often work with people who are at the end of life and who are at their most vulnerable, and we can support carers and family members too. Living with cancer can be such an isolating experience and the HVS is so important in the way it reaches out to people.
Over the past year, I have seen clients from all walks of life and the people I have visited are facing the most difficult challenges they are likely to have physically, spiritually, emotionally and practically. Their lives have been turned upside down with cancer related illness. Before joining the HVS, I had done adhoc community-based volunteering in the past, but I wanted to make more of a commitment to volunteering on a regular basis. I started my volunteer training with very little knowledge of hospice or charity work but with an open mind. The HVS course was brilliant at preparing me to do this work – with sessions about cancer and palliative care and discussions around boundaries, family dynamics and working in people’s homes. It also gave me the chance to get to know a really interesting group of therapists.
All the people I have seen through Paul's are so grateful to have had my massage sessions. It is truly humbling, and I feel honoured and grateful to have the opportunity to volunteer my skills. What I have learned from working with Paul's is they offer an unbelievable amount of care and compassion not only to people with cancer, but also to their families and carers. It’s so wonderful to be part of that. I’ve learned so much during my time so far volunteering with Paul’s and here are just 4 valuable lessons I would like to share:
1. You don’t need to be anything amazing to volunteer - You just need to be truly present with people and really want to do your best for them. When visiting a client, I don’t feel the pressure to start a 'fascinating' conversation. I just need to be present in a connected way with another human being. To simply care. To massage or hold them if even for a short while. To let them know someone is there with them, there for them and that they can always call on Paul's for compassionate support.
2. We have so much to learn from each other - Every Paul’s client I’ve seen has been a remarkable encounter in its own unique way, and each encounter has enriched my life in its own exceptionally profound way. There is so much utility in being - truly ‘being’ with folks in their vulnerability.
3. When words fail, touch really matters - So many times we try to come up with the right magical words to say. Sometimes there are no words. That’s when the gift of touch comes to the fore. I recall one time visiting a patient who was very distraught, visibly upset and tearful. My instinct was to simply lean in. I gave her a gentle hug and just held her hand in silence. We all have moments when we are paralysed by fear. In moments like that our touch speaks what our words can never say.
4. Joy can be found anywhere - Even in the most difficult of times there are still joy, love and laughter to be found. It is truly humbling to be in the presence of people where fear is outshone by nobility and courage. It is a tremendous leveller - so many things to which we attach importance are not really important. What I've learned from my encounters with clients at Paul's is that what we all do matters. The little things are big things. You never know how big a difference you’ll make by the smallest gesture. So, we should never hesitate to extend even the smallest gesture of kindness. You can’t know how much it may mean to others.
Paul’s are currently recruiting for our next annual training course for massage therapists and reflexologists who would like to support people with cancer and their carers. Paul’s are seeking volunteers who can visit clients in their own homes to support people who are too unwell to travel to our Centre near Clapham Junction. We match volunteers with clients who live near to their own homes or workplaces and ask that you give an hour a week plus travel time. All volunteers do our free 9 session training course which starts on 5 October.
To find out more or to apply visit www.pauls.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7924 3924. We encourage you to apply by the second week of September to be sure to secure a place on the course.