Sunday, 27 September 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Cancer Support Trust appoints first patron and life member

Thirty years ago, a simple act of kindness from a near stranger had an immense effect on Wharekaho resident, Jenny Edwards, one that resulted in a lasting legacy for the Mercury Bay community.

Jenny and husband, Chuck, had not long made a lifestyle change, both giving up good jobs - Jenny as a radiographer and Chuck as a school principal - to relocate from Te Puru to what had been their holiday bach. The move had been prompted by some unwelcome news.

“I had found out I had breast cancer, which was my second cancer diagnosis,” says Jenny. “I was feeling particularly sorry for myself one day and there was a knock on the door and it was this delightful young woman who I had met and talked to on the beach not long before. She said she heard I had cancer and she just gave me a big hug and a book she thought I might like to read.

“The fact that someone would think to do that. This was someone I didn’t know in any real way, she was just staying in the area with her family. But the positive impact she had on me was just incredible. When she was gone, I felt like a million dollars. That little gesture of kindness made such a huge difference.”

Inspired by the experience, Jenny immediately wanted to find a way to share that feeling of care and support with others. After a conversation with the local oncology nurse, it was agreed that the people of Mercury Bay needed to have a cancer support group. An ad was placed in the newspaper and eight people came along to the first meeting.

Using both her own personal experience and her medical background, Jenny identified various ways the group could help cancer patients and their families. “We set up lots of workshops, so we were going down to Hamilton to learn things like listening skills and massage,” she says. “I knew it had to be done in a professional way. We had meetings with local GPs and nurses. We got some funding through the Hamilton Cancer Society. There was no National Travel Assistance scheme at the time, so we were giving out a lot of petrol vouchers to help people get to appointments.”

Jenny says what was clear from the very beginning was the willingness of the public to support the initiative -  just as they have continued to do in the three decades since, as the group has grown and evolved into what is now the Mercury Bay Cancer Support Trust, helping hundreds of people and their families over the years.

“It brings me such joy to see how the organisation is thriving,” says Jenny. “The energy from the support team as well as the volunteers in the trust’s second hand bookshop in Whitianga, who are all so professional in what they do. We are disadvantaged in living where we live, but we choose to be here, so we don’t complain about it, but that is why having this sort of support is so important.”

After 25 years coordinating what was the Mercury Bay Cancer Support Group, Jenny took the decision to step back, not because she wanted a break, rather she saw the need for others to come to the fore to safeguard the future of the group. “We had some very creditable people around who were more than capable of taking up the reins and I felt it was important to give them that opportunity,” she says. “I have missed it though, it is such a privilege to be allowed to sit with people and to spend this time with them and their families.”

Often that time is the final hours a loved one shares with their family, but also it can be that journey back to good health and those magnificent moments when recovery becomes a reality.

Jenny’s initiative, effort and 25 years of service which has left a lasting legacy for the community, was recognised with a Queen’s Service Medal in 2016.

Earlier this month, the Mercury Bay Cancer Support Trust took the decision to make Jenny their first patron and life member. “It was overdue to be honest,” says current trust coordinator, Ruth Young. “The trust was only formed two years ago, but its success has been built on the work and the goodwill that Jenny built up within the community. I can’t even imagine how many people and families she has personally helped and supported over the years, we are totally indebted to her.” Jenny, who believes she has gained just as much from her role as the people she has helped, says the gesture from the trust is a huge honour.

These days the Mercury Bay Cancer Support Trust’s role is multi-faceted, from helping cancer patients to access information and providing specialised equipment to accompanying people to appointments or simply listening. Thanks to the tremendous fundraising done by the volunteer arm of the organisation at the bookshop in Albert Street, they can also fund nursing care to support a patient and their family during the final days of their illness. But while there is certainly a huge role to be played in helping those with limited time, the trust actively helps those living with cancer also, with new initiatives such as a specially developed fitness and exercise programme. Ruth says they hope to reveal more about the programme at their next informal coffee morning on Friday, 7 February.  The coffee mornings are held on the first Friday of every month at the St Andrew’s Church Hall in Whitianga and anyone affected by cancer along with their families and friends are welcome to attend.

“We’ve made it clear that Jenny can have as much or as little involvement as she wants in what we do,” says Ruth. “But we will be inviting her to all our meetings and we would certainly love to have her wisdom and knowledge.” Once again, Jenny has an inspired glint in her eye and one suspects the first patron and life member of the Mercury Bay Cancer Support Trust is up for the challenge.

Pictured: Duff Oliver, chairman of the Mercury Bay Cancer Support Trust, handing Jenny Edwards the letter inviting her to become the organisation’s first patron and life member.

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