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Being Alongside Spencer

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Tina Millard, Project Lead of Rowans Veterans Services, talks about her role in supporting Spencer and his family. 

“I met Spencer, his wife Jane, and his son at the Hospice Open Day. Spencer had come to see what we offered; he was very newly diagnosed with a brain tumour and he already knew that it wasn’t curable. Spencer needed to take back control. His way to regain control was to engage with places like us, looking for advice and identifying how we could support him. He was surprised to discover we offered a Veteran Service.

At our Monday morning Veteran drop-in session I undertook an informal holistic assessment. This includes a financial check such as “are you getting pension and benefits you’re entitled to”, through to “how are you coping emotionally”. This was especially important as Spencer’s journey had been so sudden. One day he was alright, the next he was told he had a brain tumour which had to be operated on even though he knew the operation wouldn’t cure him. He now had to wait to see what would be offered next, he hadn’t been given the whole picture. Spencer knew he was going to have some treatment but didn’t know when, he didn’t know what treatment he was going to have and he definitely didn’t know what it was going to do.

Spencer and I had a great chat, where I listened to what he was experiencing and acknowledged how he was feeling and what his concerns were. Normally a brain tumour patient, or anyone in that situation, would be contacted by a nurse specialist in that field. Unfortunately at the time there was no one available, so Spencer didn’t have anyone. As an experienced oncology cancer nurse, I was able to give him some guidance, sharing my knowledge to say generally this is what happens to people in your situation.

Spencer had been told some of this information before but naturally, due to the huge emotional turmoil anyone confronted with diagnoses of life limiting illness goes through, it’s really hard to take in all of the information. Our conversations helped him to process and reconfirm what he had been told.

“Being a veteran isn’t about ticking a box; I make sure I know where they have been, what they have done and seen. Being in the military isn’t a job, it is a way of life.”

From this point we set key goals. My immediate action was to find and put him in contact with a brain tumour specialist in the hospital. I remember being insistent that he contacted his GP as they often get forgotten when you enter the hospital system.  In addition to signposting him to any of the relevant Veteran services for him to contact (out of the hundreds that are available) I also highlighted the things we offer at the Living Well Centre that might interest him. He is now having reflexology and massage which I didn’t think he would do, but I’m so glad he has.

It is great to see Spencer every Monday when he pops in to enjoy the banter with the other veterans. He seems happy and contented here, which gives Jane the chance to go off and get anything done that she needs to do. It’s great to witness them both entering a relatively settled period; things are as ok as they will be and they are starting to plan things for the future.

I think what really helps is, I know Spencer’s story, what he has been through. Being a veteran isn’t about ticking a box; I make sure I know where they have been, what they have done and seen. Being in the military isn’t a job, it is a way of life. Furthermore I know what Spencer is currently going through. If he tells me on a Monday it hasn’t been a good week, he doesn’t have to explain he has been having chemo that week. I want to provide a constant for Spencer, Jane and their boys so they know I am alongside them throughout the journey.”

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