Jeff Stokes from Exeter has found a sense of purpose and renewed self-confidence from volunteering with local charity Hospiscare.
Five years ago Jeff, who is now 67, retired early from a busy job with South West Water. Having been unwell for a while with a persistent cough, Jeff made the decision to leave work and investigate his ill health further. After seeing various specialists a tumour was discovered on one of Jeff’s tonsils and subsequently he was given the devastating diagnosis of having head and neck cancer.
Jeff had to undergo what he describes as “barbaric treatment” in an attempt to get rid of the disease. Aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy left Jeff unable to stand or swallow, he was fed through a stomach tube and hospitalised for a long time.
Having been so busy in his work life and always fit and well, Jeff found himself seriously ill with time on his hands, questioning his life and wondering what to do. Jeff explains,
“I lost all my confidence, self-worth and self-assurance, I went from being busy and active to doing nothing. I was so ill at the time that I was actually referred to day services at Hospiscare in Exeter. This was my first contact with the charity. However I was lucky, the treatments I had did work and the cancer has now gone, but I was left with depression and was asking myself what is there to do now?
“As my health improved, I started to look into volunteering for a charity. Hospiscare was one of the first places I approached. Originally I was interested in a caring role, maybe as a driver or helping out on the ward, but at the time I applied, those roles were filled. Instead, they suggested I look at volunteer vacancies in their Warehouse Shop over at Marsh Barton.
“Offering to help there hadn’t really crossed my mind, but I was amazed when I went over at how much was going on. I discovered the Shop Online department where they sell donations online on Amazon and eBay and I haven’t looked back since.
“I started off with simple tasks, like listing basic items on eBay, and popped in once a week on a Wednesday for three hours. As my confidence grew, I started to really enjoy it! So I extended my hours to seven and started throwing in some Fridays too. Now I have moved on from the simple stuff and I list all items on eBay.
“I have a real interest in aviation and antiques so the team aim to put those sort of products aside for me so I can photograph and list them on eBay when I come in. I get great pleasure from researching how much something is worth and I love display and photography so it’s an ideal role for me. You also get the thrill of the unknown as you never know what people will donate, so it’s a fun and fascinating job.
“Before I started volunteering with the Shop Online team, I was unsure of meeting new people. I shouldn’t have worried; the team I work with are a great bunch. They are so friendly, driven and grateful for my help. They always thank me at the end of the day and they have become my friends. We go out for meals, walks, quiz nights and bowling so my social life has been enhanced as well.
“I know Hospiscare are always in need of more volunteers, so I would really like to say to anyone out there who may have gone through a difficult time – join us! Don’t hesitate. You won’t look back. Come and find out what there is here for you. You don’t have to be an expert. Hospiscare will support and train you in your volunteer role. Don’t think for a minute you won’t be good enough, the organisation needs you.
“My life would be very different if I didn’t volunteer for Hospiscare. I really thank Hospiscare for giving me this opportunity. It has dug me out of depression and I have met a lot of new friends. After a day’s volunteering when I walk home I have a sense of wellbeing, like I have done something today, and it feels really good.”
If you’re interested in finding out more about volunteer opportunities at Hospiscare, please call 01392 688005 or email email@example.com.