“I don’t see the illness – I just see Pat”

Photography by Charlie Campbell

“Sometimes I leave and think, ‘Am I really doing anything?’” says Mike. “But I know Pat and his wife Linda look forward to it, and I think my visits mean a lot to Pat.”

Mike approached Marie Curie about becoming a Helper volunteer because, as a trainee counsellor, he wanted to improve his listening and empathy skills – although Pat reckons he’s already a natural.

“He’s a people person like me!” Pat smiles. “We just talk about everything, and I really appreciate that he takes the time and the trouble to come and see me.”

Pat, 60, is in the advanced stages of Motor Neurone Disease. He is cared for by his wife Linda and their three sons at home – and Mike’s visits enable them to take some valuable time off.

For Linda it’s a chance to get out and meet a friend: “We go for a swim and walk around the shops, and when it’s time to come back I’m really pleased to see Pat again!” Linda says.

“I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful family and lots of visitors who come and see me, but it is nice to talk to someone else,” Pat explains.

Pat and Mike like to share a joke or two at home, and chat about what they’ve been doing since Mike’s last visit. Some Helper volunteers might take the person they support to appointments, out to lunch, or just for a short walk. And Helper volunteers and those using the service are fully supported by a regional Marie Curie Helper manager.

“There’s a tendency for people to feel uncomfortable when talking to someone in my condition, so I try my hardest to make them feel comfortable,” says Pat.

Pat and Mike, however, hit it off straight away, and Marie Curie works hard to ensure that volunteers and the people they visit will be a good match.

“I don’t see the illness – I just see Pat,” says Mike. “And I feel this real connection with him and a connection with a charity I really admire. It’s a fantastic service because it’s so rewarding – for everyone!”

“Pat really enjoys it and Mike is so kind and patient,” Linda says. “They get on really well because they’ve got a lot in common – like music.”

Pat used to work at the Glastonbury Festival as a paramedic – so it was a fantastic surprise when his friends arranged for him to visit the Festival last year. Pat isn’t one to let his condition get in the way of enjoying life.

And Pat’s outlook means that Mike is really enjoying the experience, too: “We have such a laugh together and I wasn’t expecting that,” says Mike. “We haven’t talked about what will happen in the future, but when Pat wants to talk about it… well, I’ll be here for him.”

How you can help

Although not available everywhere, the Marie Curie Helper service is expanding all the time so if you are empathetic and understanding and would like to volunteer, call 0800 206 1461. To find out more about what the role involves visit mariecurie.org.uk/helper.

This article first appeared in the April edition of Shine On, the magazine for Marie Curie supporters.