In order to begin chemotherapy treatment, and so that she could undergo a mastectomy, doctors induced Helen’s labour five weeks early and her son Harrison was born prematurely in June 2007 before spending two weeks in a special care unit.
During this extremely difficult time, Helen was introduced to the local charity St Giles Hospice, which provides specialist care and support for people living with cancer and other serious illnesses.
Helen’s twin sister Sandra Ingram (44), also from Tamworth, recalls: “Helen always felt very well supported by St Giles Hospice – she thought the charity was amazing and she always felt at ease when she was receiving care.”
Helen was looked after by one of the charity’s community nurses and she also received complementary therapy and symptom management treatment.
However, in November 2008, 18 months after her initial diagnosis, Helen received the devastating news that the illness was terminal.
“Helen was in hospital on a Monday night when she got the news that there was nothing more they could do for her,” explains Sandra. “By the Tuesday morning we’d got her to St Giles Hospice and it was later that evening that she died. It all happened so very quickly, it really was quite a shock.
“I was there with her when she passed away and, looking back, I feel as though Helen decided that she was ready to go. I know she felt comfortable and looked after at St Giles.”
It was in the midst of coming to terms with her sister’s death that Sandra made a big decision about her own life path.
“I was studying a midwifery degree at Birmingham City University and just one month before I was due to finish, I decided it wasn’t for me,” explains Sandra. “I was at a crossroads thinking ‘where do I go from here?’
“But one thing I did know was that I wanted to give something back to St Giles Hospice for making my sister’s journey a smoother one. It felt right to follow my heart at the time and I’m so glad I did, because everything has fallen into place since.”
Sandra initially signed up as a volunteer nurse’s aide at the Lymphedema Clinic at St Giles Hospice, before applying for a job with the St Giles Care Agency. She says: “I worked as a Healthcare Assistant for three months and it was the most amazing three months of my life! I really felt like I had found my vocation at long last.”
Sandra has been working as a Healthcare Assistant at the Day Hospice at St Giles in Whittington ever since, and 2017 marks her fifth year with the charity.
“I absolutely adore my job,” she continues. “It just feels like such a privilege to spend time with people at such a difficult period in their life. Little things mean an awful lot to our patients and I get as much from St Giles as they do.”
As well as inspiring a career change, the care provided by St Giles Hospice for her sister Helen has also led to Sandra signing up for two marathons to raise vital funds for the local charity!
“I love running and I always said that I will take part in a marathon one day,” explains Sandra. “I put my name down for London but didn’t think I’d get it, so I was over the moon when I did! I’m also going to run the Birmingham International Marathon.
“I feel like it is my time now and I’m confident that I’ll be able to do it. I will be raising funds for St Giles Hospice so that I can continue to help providing the same amazing care and support for other patients, carers and their families that my sister received.
“I think Helen would be really happy to see how well we’re all doing, especially Harrison who is now 10 years-old. If she is looking down, I know she would be proud of me – she has helped me along my journey in life.”
To support Sandra as she prepares to take on the London Marathon and Birmingham International Marathon for St Giles Hospice, visit her JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/sandra-ingram2 to donate.
For more information about the work St Giles Hospice does or to find out more about fundraising for the charity, visit www.stgileshospice.com.