Many people talk about running as a critical ‘stress reliever’, particularly from the day-to-day challenges of a hectic job. But, for Melissa Day, a 37-year-old palliative care nurse for Demelza Hospice Care for Children, her role involves certain emotional and physical challenges that most couldn’t begin to comprehend.
Demelza is one of the six independent children’s hospices encompassing Children’s Hospices across London (CHaL) – the Official Headline Charity Partner for our WR10K Race Series this year. Demelza, ellenor, Haven House Children’s Hospice, Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice, Richard House Children’s Hospice and Shooting Star Chase Children’s Hospice, together offer support services to nearly 3000 seriously ill babies, children, young people and their families, in and around the capital. Like each of the charities, Demelza works with life-limited or life-threatened children and their families, providing specialist symptom management, end-of-life care, specialist short breaks and long-term physical and mental health support.
“In general Demelza is a home-from-home caring environment, where some children go to school while staying with us, but they all benefit from the activities and memory making we are constantly planning and facilitating,” explains Bromley-based nurse Melissa. “These include trips out, arts and crafts, external professional artists coming into Demelza, our own Demelza music and art therapists and endless themed parties at Demelza.”
Before coming to Demelza, Melissa worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital as a nurse on the surgical wards, but was attracted to the prospect of providing one-to-one quality care with seriously ill children and their families. While she admits that her role at Demelza is challenging – on many levels – Melissa takes huge enjoyment – and fulfilment – from her role and is passionate about the work of the hospice. “I was inspired to work at Demelza because of the specialist care we can give to the children and most of that is provided around activities for the children, targeted towards each individual child,” she says. “At Demelza you can read a child a story, it’s lovely.
“My favourite aspect of my job is assisting with the young person’s group, though. These are our young people of 14 years plus, up to 19 years. This group is transitioning their care into adult services. None of our young people can get out and about by themselves to do things or meet friends, so this group organises activities where they can do some of the things other young people are doing, and without their parents or guardians around.”
While a focus on cultivating a quality of life for the children and young adults at the hospice is central to Melissa’s role, catering for the children’s complex medical needs lies at the forefront of her work. “It is a large responsibility,” says Melissa, “and, for most of our complex children, their medications and dosages change frequently, so we have to be so careful and promote professionalism and safety at all times.”
Sustaining such high levels of vigilance and professionalism, alongside a positive mental attitude and demeanour is something Melissa finds “emotionally, mentally and physically challenging at times”, yet finds running helps her to better cope with these demands. “I got into running because it is so beneficial to my mental health, especially with the job I have,” says Melissa. “Running gives you time to think, reflect, let go and gives you time outside in the fresh air in all weathers, at any time of day, and makes you feel on top of the world.”
Melissa has now been running for fifteen years, heading out around three of four times a week, in and around her work. She has now run three marathons and has aspirations of running even more. “I hope to run the New York Marathon and/or the London marathon in the next few years for Demelza! And to run a marathon in under four hours, that would be a dream!”
For Melissa, running has become a crucial part of her life – and work – helping her to provide the best quality care she can. “Running makes you at peace with yourself and any troubles you do have just dissolve away – that’s what has kept me running.”
To find out more about Children’s Hospices Across London and Demelza, visit www.chal.org.uk/index.html. To run for Demelza at our WR10K Finsbury Park race this weekend, simply sign up for a charity place.