Cedar Garden Sessions is back and as always, Hannah, Digital & Web Manager, is interviewing a member of the Penny Brohn UK team to find out more about them and the work they do behind the scenes to keep our services up and running.

This month, Hannah speaks with Lead Night Nurse Therapist, Tilly Sheeran, who has been working at Penny Brohn for eight years. This year, on 2nd March, Tilly celebrates 50 years working as a registered nurse!

Hi Tilly, thanks for joining me today. It is amazing to hear that this year marks your 50 years working as a nurse. What a fantastic achievement for you. 

Thank you, yes. I started aged 16 on 2nd March. It’s quite difficult to believe we are now 50 years on!

I can imagine it must feel like a bit of a whirlwind but we’re ever so glad that the whirlwind ended up landing at Penny Brohn’s doorstep, eight years ago. Tell me Tilly, how did you come to work for Penny Brohn? 

Well, My career was mainly based around acute Neurosurgical nursing within the NHS, but I moved into Cancer Services thirteen years ago when I started managing a specialist Palliative Care unit, based at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol. I have followed and embraced the philosophies of Penny Brohn UK for many years and family members and close friends of mine have all used the services we offer. So… when a study day based at Penny Brohn promoting and explaining the work of the centre landed on my desk one morning, I immediately responded and accepted the invitation to attend. It was a beautiful Summers day, the study day really touched and influenced me.

Ah, what an opportunity! Did that day lead to the job offer? 

Well, sort of… During a tea break whist sat out on the lawns, I jokingly asked one of the then-called Client Co-ordinators if there were any jobs going, as I couldn’t  believe what an amazing place it must be to work! She responded that there actually was a post going but probably wouldn’t be suitable for me  as was a part time post and ideally anyone applying should have a “Therapy” background… Also the closing date was midnight that day!

Wow, yes, that is a bit tight!

But I decided that, although I was not a trained Therapist, I have always been interested in Complimentary Therapy and used it personally for many years. So, at precisely 23:50 that same day, the application was in! I was called for interview two weeks later and the rest is history!

How fortunate that you decided to go for it, despite the deadline. So what does your role involve here? 

For the last four years my role has been that of  a Lead Night Nurse Therapist, managing and guiding a team of two trained nurses (NNTs) and four Residential Client Supporters (RCS) within the charity. We are known as “The Night  Team”and we care and support clients attending Residential courses provided by Penny Brohn UK.

This role entails welcoming clients when they arrive into the building, which is often their first experience of PBUK, and an initial one-to-one meeting, encouraging the clients to not only update us with their clinical status but also to share any worries, concerns, fears, joys and more… thus promoting The Bristol Whole Life Approach.

All of our clients are given a tour of the National Centre and then invited to join a Welcome circle, which involves a short meditation and  a simple introduction and “sharing” of themselves to other members of their facilitation group. Following this we share supper, followed by a muscle relaxation (led by the NNT/RCS) and with some groups, there is an opportunity to complete paperwork that enhances our medical team and Therapy teams knowledge of the clients journey and enhances quality time with them during one to one sessions.

The Night Team also leads Mindful Movement sessions, mindful walks in the garden, Tripudio sessions and Biodanza which clients love!

This all sounds amazing Tilly. What an incredible experience for the clients to have; and it must also be very rewarding for you too. 

Yes – an important part of my role is to make sure clients on residential courses feel safe and are safe, using developed skills of observation and a nurse training that enables me to make clinical decisions that maintain clients well being and safety at all times. Myself and one other team member sleep on the premises and are on call throughout the night for any support that may be needed by clients in the building. It is a huge privilege to work so closely with clients and to share and support them in times of need.

As a team manager I also believe that it is so important to respect and to listen to my team, encourage lateral thinking, support implementation of change within the charity and organise lots of social events!!

That is absolutely brilliant. I am sure that your team thoroughly appreciate the hard work that goes into that too. So tell me, what are you most excited about at the moment? 

Oh, good question. I am very excited about the development of some new and interesting Residential courses that are in process at the moment and looking forward to their implementation and the part I will play in this.

Yes, that is very exciting. You’ll have to come back and tell us about it once they are in full-swing. So what is your favourite part of your job here? 

I feel so privileged in this job to enjoy the space and time to share with clients in my care and to clearly see changes in their perceptions and positivity following attending the courses we provide. I volunteer at Southmead Hospital on the first Monday of every month, promoting and explaining to patients using North Bristol Healthcare Trust facilities, what we provide at PBUK. I love this, as often see colleagues I worked alongside (in my previous life!) passing by and can share with them what my role is within the charity and to hold the interest of patients when I tell them what we can offer them to help and support them on their difficult journeys. It is so clear to me that the changes we help clients to make in their cancer journey significantly help their recovery and future well being. I find the whole process so uplifting and makes everything I am part of so worthwhile!

Fantastic. There is nothing quite like seeing the change in resilience and perception of people firsthand. So, is there a moment that stands out to you as a particular highlight of your time at Penny Brohn so far?

Ah, there are two really magical moments for me…

Fire away!

Well, firstly, being part of and reaching the ultimate summit when trekking in Northern India to raise funds for Penny Brohn five years ago.

Ah yes, what a place India is! Quite astounding. Such an accomplishment too! And what magical moment number two? 

Whilst volunteering at Southmead Hospital, an elderly patient and his wife approached me. The patient was clearly distressed and shared with me that he had just left a meeting with his Consultant who had delivered a very poor life expectancy prognosis. His elderly wife was with him and they were both badly shaken and clearly devastated. I supported and shared some very precious time with them that day also taking time to talk with them about our services and how I felt we could help and support them.

I was delighted to meet them again on a residential Living Well course and am aware they have continued to use our services and have benefited greatly from this. The power of that positive outcome for this devastated couple just clearly showed me how we our charity does change people’s lives and I am so proud to be part of it!

That is truly what it is all about. Thank you for sharing that story. 

Biscuit Leaderboard

1. Penguin Bars
2. Gingernuts
3. Custard Creams
4. Hobnobs
5. Caramel Chocolate Digestives
6. Plain Chocolate Digestives
7. Regular Digestives
8. Fox’s Creams
9. Chocolate Fingers

No problem. It certainly sticks out to me.

So, we are coming to the end of our lovely chat and there is one more question to ask. What is your favourite dunkable biscuit?

Oh, it’s got to be the Hobnob for me. Those crunchy oats soaked in Truckers tea.. Delicious! [Laughs]

[Laughs] A seriously strong contender! I think you might have shifted it up the leaderboard, in fact!

Thanks to Tilly for joining me in the Cedar Garden this month. It was great to hear about her career as a Nurse and all the fantastic things the Night Team do at Penny Brohn. After some deliberation in the Comms office, the Hobnob has moved up the leader board to 4th place! 

We’ll be back here with another member of the Penny Brohn team next month. So keep an eye out for the next Cedar Garden Sessions.

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