A pensioner whose life-threatening cancer was spotted thanks to his GP has swapped retirement to work as a hospital volunteer, to say thanks to medics.
Andy Fewings, who was treated for prostate cancer, now spends three days a week helping out at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor.
The 68-year-old retired postal worker first signed up as a Robin hospital ward volunteer with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board only a few months after undergoing intensive radiotherapy treatment.
His cancer was spotted following a routine check-up by his GP – offered to men aged over 60. He has since undergone treatment and, three years on, is still under the care of a consultant urologist at Ysbyty Gwynedd.
Andy remains determined to help out in any way he can, despite the fact that he has still not been given the all clear from cancer, saying he wants to give something back to the health service for supporting him through his battle with illness.
In addition to being a Robin volunteer on Ysbyty Gwynedd’s dementia ward once a week, Andy also spends a further two days with the hospital’s Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) team.
On Saturdays he helps go round the wards with the trolley selling newspapers to patients and every Thursday he assists in the Transfer Unit where patients wait for hospital transport to community hospitals or other destinations, once they are discharged from Ysbyty Gwynedd.
Andy and his wife Marjorie moved from Hampshire to North Wales when their software technician son Adrian got a job in the region, after studying for eight years at Bangor University, gaining a Masters and PhD.
Andy said: “Adrian is married with a son of his own now and another child on the way. We obviously wanted to be near him and his family but we also enjoy the pace of life here in North Wales.
“I am lucky that I was able to retire early and when we first moved here in 2008 I often thought about doing some voluntary work. But it was not until after I was diagnosed with cancer that I really decided to put my name forward.”
Initially Andy was having medical assessments every three months, but he has just been told he can now move to annual check-ups.
He considers himself extremely fortunate that his cancer was detected early following routine checks at his GP practice.
He said: “I really don’t know if it would have been caught so quickly if we had not moved here. I was so lucky that we registered with a North Wales GP practice, which offers yearly checks for all men over 60 – I used to call them my annual MOT. They include blood tests and it was as a result of these that my cancer was discovered. I had no other obvious symptoms.”
Andy endured radiotherapy five days a week for nearly two months, travelling from his home at Dwyran, near Llanfairpwll, Anglesey, to the cancer unit at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, Bodelwyddan, where he was treated every weekday.
He said: “I cannot praise the cancer unit enough. I’ve felt I’ve been in good hands throughout. The Glan Clwyd unit is second to none and I know it is one of the best places to be treated.
“It’s been a very challenging time for myself and my family, but going to that unit every day for so many weeks was a real eye opener in so many other ways. To see the number of people going through its doors non-stop, people who like me were also cancer patients, with their families, it really made me realise how important it is to do all we can to fight this disease and to support the NHS.
“That’s why I decided that as soon as I was fit enough I would become a hospital volunteer.”
Andy kept his promise to himself. Having completed his course of radiotherapy in April, 2013, he signed up as a volunteer just a few months later in October.
He said: “As Ysbyty Gwynedd is our local hospital I decided to volunteer here. I just walked in and went to talk with the RVS team. They were very welcoming and initially I only did the two days a week with them but then one of the team told me about the Robins. I had not heard of them before but I went to inquire with the co-ordinator and I realised what invaluable work they do.”
The Robins were established more than a decade ago to give much needed support to health workers across the North Wales region. There are now Robin volunteers in all three major BCUHB hospitals – Ysbyty Gwynedd, Wrexham Maelor and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd – as well as 19 community hospitals.
Their duties include everything from befriending patients during their stay in hospital and chatting with them, to preparing hot and cold drinks, checking water jugs plus providing reading and writing services for patients.
They also aim to reassure people when they first arrive in hospital, run errands to the hospital shop for patients and spend time with day visitors, doing quizzes, games or talking to help take their mind off treatments.
Ysbyty Gwynedd Robin volunteers co-ordinator Rhian Jones said anyone over 17 can apply to become a Robin, and she is keen to recruit more volunteers both at Ysbyty Gwynedd and nearby hospitals and clinics.
She said: “Andy is one of our most well-known Robins and he‘s a natural. The staff on the dementia ward to which he is attached love it when he is there as he is able to assist them with so many odd jobs and he’s also a reassuring presence for some of the long term patients who have got to recognise him over time.”
Andy would recommend anyone with spare time on their hands and who wants to do some volunteering for their local community to become a Robin.
He said: “It is one of the best things I have done ever. I’ve had some memorable chats with patients over the last three years. I get to meet so many different people each day and there is a real sense of satisfaction being able to help people going through hard times. Even if it is just a small thing like getting a glass of water or a newspaper for them, it can make a big difference to someone who is not able to do that themselves.
“I know from my own experience that being in hospital can be very traumatic so anything we can do to ease that anxiety for patients, whether they are long term or outpatients, is always worth it.”
BCUHB volunteers manager Sue Marriott said: “‘It’s both a privilege and an honour to spend my time with the Robins and all volunteers, who really do go that extra smile for patients, colleagues and staff!”
Ongoing training and support is available for all volunteers. Anyone who wants to find out more about becoming a Robin can find information at the BCUHB website www.wales.nhs.uk or call BCUHB volunteers manager Sue Marriott on 01978 727164 or email firstname.lastname@example.org