Tuesday, 4 April 2017

In becoming a volunteer it felt like I'd turned a massive corner in my life - Shaun Dingsdale

Shaun Dingsdale, Christie volunteer, patient and fundraiser

Shaun Dingsdale
Last summer I started working as a volunteer in the May Draper tea bar at The Christie. My first day as an official volunteer was such a proud moment for me, and I feel the same way every time I turn up to do my voluntary work.

In becoming a volunteer it felt like I'd turned a massive corner in my life. Because it wasn’t so long ago that I’d been coming to The Christie for care and treatment, and was feeling like I was at rock bottom.

Now I was helping out in the tea bar and able to listen to and help the patients who were in the same position that I once was.

Six years earlier, back in 2010 at the age of 39, I had found a lump in my right groin which I thought was a hernia. After several appointments with different doctors I still didn’t know what the problem was. I was then sent for a biopsy at Leigh hospital and the results showed I had cancer.

I was told by the surgeon that the cancer I had was Hodgkins Lymphoma and that I’d need to go to The Christie to have treatment to get rid of it.

I came to The Christie in July 2010. My doctor, Professor Radford told me that I actually had Non Hodgkins Lymphoma, which is a lot worse and more aggressive than Hodgkins Lymphoma.

He also told me that if I hadn't come to The Christie to get this treated, then the cancer would have killed me within six months.

I was treated straight away with a combination of four chemotherapy drugs or ‘CHOP’ for short, and I had the option to take a trial chemotherapy called campath, which I did.

The chemotherapy did its job. But because Non Hodgkins Lymphoma is an aggressive cancer and there is a high chance of it coming back, I was told that it would be a good option to have a stem cell transplant to minimise the risk of the cancer coming back and to kill off any remaining cancer cells.

So in 2011 I had the stem cell transplant, where I spent 27 days in The Christie hospital for the treatment.

The stem cell transplant went really well, but it left me feeling very weak. It also left me not being able to keep any food or drink down whatsoever.

Because I couldn't keep anything down I lost a lot of weight. I went down to five and a half stone and was so weak that I was stuck in bed for around six months.

I wasn't able to do anything by myself. I couldn’t get to the bathroom because I’d lost all the strength in my legs. I couldn't dress myself. I couldn't even feed myself without the help of my wife and three kids.

Every single bit of energy had vanished from my body. To put weight back on I was told about a drink called 40sip, which would give me all the nutrients I’d need to start putting weight back on. Luckily those little drinks stayed down and I started to build my strength up.

My strength returned slowly. I was able to sit in a wheelchair and be pushed by my wife, just to get out and about and see the world again. 

My positive mental attitude then kicked in which made me want to get up and try to start walking. Learning how to walk again was really hard, but I did what I knew I'd have to do to reach that goal.

Once I had reached a half decent level of fitness I wanted to repay The Christie for saving my life. Just saying thank you in person to all the doctors and nurses I saw felt good, but to me that wasn't good enough. I wanted to show them how much I appreciated what they did for me.

So in 2015 I took part in two bike rides with my daughter to raise money for The Christie. Giving back was a good feeling, but I knew it was just the beginning and that my fundraising could be even bigger and better.

In 2016 I raised even more for The Christie. And even though The Christie was more than happy with what I’d achieved so far I still felt like I hadn't done enough. I still wanted to give something back that would make me feel on top of the world.

So I volunteered to do a bucket collection at a Christie event in Bolton, and that gave me the bug to do more voluntary work. That was when I was asked if I’d like to help in the May Draper tea bar at The Christie.

I felt so proud to be working there and it showed just how far I’d come since first being diagnosed with cancer.

Shaun in the tea bar
Becoming a volunteer is so rewarding. And The Christie makes a special effort to thank the voluntary workers, telling us how important our contribution is and how it helps the hospital. When I hear what all the many volunteers have achieved, it makes me feel good and proud of my efforts. Trust me - this is a feeling that's on a par with being told you are cancer free!

I can't thank The Christie enough for what they've done for me, but one thing I do know is that as long as I’m still around, The Christie will always have a willing volunteer and fundraiser.

I can't wait to get stuck into fundraising in 2017 and will hopefully raise even more than last year. When I stand at the top of Snowdon in June this year I'm going to dedicate it to my family and to everyone who works at The Christie for getting me where I am today.

I just want finish by saying a massive thank you to The Christie for saving my life and for letting me do what I do for them. I support The Christie in any way I can including supporting their campaigns. I’m proud to be supporting the #ididitforthechristie campaign and urge everyone to ask their friends, family and colleagues “What will you do for The Christie this year?” 

All volunteers go through a robust recruitment, selection and screening process and the Trust ensures they are well placed, inducted, trained and supported throughout their volunteering. For further information please visit www.christie.nhs.uk/professionals/work-with-us/volunteers 

There are lots of ways to raise funds for The Christie, whether it be at work, with friends, on your own or in a group - every penny you raise makes a difference for our patients. Please visit www.christie.nhs.uk/the-christie-charity/get-involved/fundraise/ for further information.