Meet the ladies keeping fit and having fun, despite terminal illness
Maria and Rose live just ten minutes apart from each other, in Haringey, north London. But sadly, illness means it is impossible for either of them to visit the other. Instead, they meet each Tuesday, at the Marie Curie Hospice, Hampstead. They are part of a group of friends, all living with terminal illnesses, who have been using the hospice gym for over a year.
Maria, Mary, Betty, Elizabeth and Rose are well known throughout the hospice.
“I call them the Spice Girls,” says Elisha, a volunteer, who sometimes does the ladies’ nails if they have time after their exercise.
The group come to the hospice every Tuesday via special transport, and complete an individually-tailored gym session followed by lunch in the hospice’s canteen.
“I felt at home”
Elizabeth, born in Cape Town, South Africa, has been coming to the hospice every week for over a year and a half.
“We look forward to coming,” she says, “I came here and straight away I loved it. I felt at home.”
“When you’re our age you can’t just sit in the flat. Myself I don’t do that. I like to go out and walk. It’s nice to go out of the flat -- otherwise it’s too much, especially when you live on your own.”
A well-travelled group
Anne has been volunteering at the hospice since 1988 and over the last few years has got to know this group of ladies particularly well.
“We have a lot of laughs,” she says, “Especially Betty, she makes everybody laugh.”
She’s struck by how well the group get on.
‘They’re all so different - different race, different religion, different background, but they all have that one thing in common and they all get on so well together, and support each other.
“It’s a lovely group. And then a new one will come, and you gradually get to know them and they blend in again.”
Anne has learned each lady’s tea and biscuit preferences, and makes sure to have their drink waiting for them when they arrive. She often tells stories of her own family, or brings pictures in to share.
“As a volunteer, you can start conversations. Although - you don’t need to when Betty’s around!”
A big difference
Maria is originally from Cyprus but has lived in the UK since the late 1960s.
“It was nice to come here,” she says, “Because to be honest, I wasn’t doing so well. Day by day I was getting more down. Then it was suggested I come here. The doctor said: ‘In this place, you know, you’re going to be alright’. And, oh yes he was right. They are very friendly, so nice.
It is not good to be on your own, lonely. It makes a big difference to come here.”
Mary, from Ireland, says the regular exercise and care she’s received as the hospice has had a huge impact.
“It’s done wonders for me. I could hardly walk you know. I came here with a lot of bad back pain, and they helped me. I was crying the first time I came, from the pain. And they said they’d help me, and they did – I never looked back.”
“Now I come to the gym and I look forward to it every week. It’s easier to be lazy; just stay at home. But another thing about coming here is you meet all these lovely ladies. I’ve made friends here. I look forward to that too. That’s important to me because I’m at home all day and my husband isn’t well, so this is my social life in a way.”
“You meet different people and you hear different stories, it’s lovely.”
Lessons from childhood
Elizabeth reflects that she was always active as a child, and sees no reason to stop now.
“In my country you go to swim in the sea, and then you have a barbeque. I always loved that. I’ve always loved swimming, I always loved exercise.
“I do everything. I do the cycles, one for the hands and one for the legs. Then I do walking up and down then squats and squeezes. We do a lot of things here.”
When asked if Elizabeth has any advice for people who aren’t as active as she is, she says:
“You’ve never been to a gym? Well you should go! It makes you strong.”