Veteran nurse Ginny Allen, who has specialised in palliative and end-of-life care for more than 20 years, underwent gruelling treatment after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of the Covid pandemic.
She was then referred to South Bucks Hospice in Christmas 2020 after suffering from lymphoedema, a side effect of the cancer surgery.
And Ginny, 56, was so thankful that she successfully applied earlier this year for the job of Head of Clinical Services at the hospice near her home in High Wycombe.
At the time, she was Social Care Programme Lead at the Gold Standards Framework organisation - a post that had entailed her travelling all around the country teaching and assessing hospitals, care homes, domiciliary care, prisons and retirement villages about end-of-life care.
“I wasn’t unhappy in my other job, which I loved and was proud of, but I wanted to give something back to South Bucks Hospice,” she said. “I love walking into this building at Butterfly House where there’s always a laugh and a smile.”
Ginny, who joined the hospice on April 24, 2023, believes she is now a better nurse as a result of her illness.
She explained: “I now have a better understanding of what chemotherapy involves and how it feels. You lose your hair and your eyebrows. I thought I knew what fatigue was before – but having experienced this, it was another world.”
Her breast cancer diagnosis was first made in Christmas 2019 – and Ginny speaks candidly about the fear she felt, despite her years of experience in nursing and end-of-life care.
She recalled: “I was very shocked. Nobody in my family, both sides, had ever had cancer, so it was out of the blue.
“I then had surgery in January 2020. At the end of February 2020, I started chemotherapy. I had my first chemo and sat and bawled my eyes out. For somebody who works in the end-of-life care business, I thought I knew everything but I was absolutely terrified.”
The pandemic made things even harder. But husband Mark was allowed by his company to work from home to protect her for the duration of her treatment – driving her to hospital for about 18 weeks for chemotherapy, which was followed by three weeks of radiotherapy.
“I don’t know if I am ever going to be all clear – I have no disease at the moment, but it’s something that lives with me all the time,” she said.
Ginny had known about the hospice previously, but was overwhelmed with gratitude at the way it supported her and still does.
“At South Bucks Hospice, we have the most amazing team. They look out for each other and take care of each other, and they believe the patient is the most important person who comes into this building,” she said.
Ginny, who has to go for cancer checks every Christmas, added: “I am out the other side, I am living with lymphoedema which is a chronic condition which can cause some discomfort. I am alive and I am here, and I am enjoying this next challenge in my life.”