“Coming back to the hospice after I was sick gave me a purpose.”
As it’s Volunteers’ Week, we’re celebrating the people who give up their time to make a difference at Marie Curie. Aidan Campbell is one of them. After caring for a family friend who spent the end of his life in the Marie Curie Hospice, Belfast, he was inspired to get involved. Here, he tells us all about it, from making tea to writing books, and returning after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.
“When I was first interviewed by the hospice to volunteer, they asked me what I could do. I was stumped, so thought about something I had heard Mahatma Gandhi say when he was asked the same question.
“He said: ‘I am here to do anything that is not beyond my capacity’ – something I have carried with me throughout my time here.
“That was my reply to the lady at the hospice in my interview and she had a long list of the different jobs there were to do. I had a look and saw ‘Tea Volunteer’. I said: ‘Well I can do that, I can make tea.’ So that’s what I started off doing.
“Gradually I moved on to other things, like office work and cutting the grass, going to hospital to pick up blood samples, answering the phone, that sort of thing.
“Over the years I also became a community ambassador, bringing in money from fundraising events. I gave talks and wrote local history books, selling them in aid of Marie Curie.”
Dealing with major life changes
“I retired from full-time work in 2008. Well, I was taken sick actually. I went to get tests, and to cut a long story short, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
“I had to have an operation and I was in hospital for about two months. I had to teach myself to walk and eat again.
“My wife took six months off work to look after me at home. There was radiotherapy and steroids. After that came depression, so I had to take medication for that too.
“It was pretty terrible – up until then, life had just been going along, and all of a sudden it hit the buffers. I had to wind up the business, I couldn’t drive the car. Life as I knew it came to a bit of an end.”
“With regards to volunteering at Marie Curie, after about a year off to find my feet I came back.
“I can still count money, so that’s what I do now. I write the books and still give talks. I’ve given something like 350 talks over the last 11 years, 12 books, and have raised about £110,000 for Marie Curie.
“It’s sort of taken over my life because now I also write columns for local newspapers. Occasionally, I’m on the BBC.
“When you’re ill, you spend a long time at hospital clinics, getting scanned and tested, having physiotherapy. After all that’s over, you’re sort of left in your predicament.
“Coming back to the hospice after I was taken sick gave me a purpose – I think that’s what it’s all about. Once you’ve gotten over those medical things, as somebody once said, ‘man does not live by pensions alone’.
“I’m here one day a month now. I’ve cut it down a bit because like so many things in life, especially now, after my radiotherapy and steroids, I get waves of terrible tiredness. I recognise it now so when I feel it coming I take a few days off. All great men know their limitations!”
A role that makes a difference
“So what’s my favourite thing about volunteering here? I suppose it’s the relationships you build.
“There’s also a totally different ethos to the one I was living by before. It’s not about profit, reaching deadlines, or managing strategies and making money. It’s caring for people at the end of their life.”
Inspired to do something rewarding in your spare time? Take a look at the volunteering opportunities at Marie Curie.