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Q&A with Trudi, a Family Connect Volunteer

We spoke to our Family Connect Volunteer, Trudi, to learn more about her interests and interactions with the families in the Kookaburra ward.

When did you start volunteering for CCF? 

Trudi: I started volunteer work with the CCF in June of 2018. 

What inspired you to support the CCF? 

Trudi: I had recently retired after many years in the education sector and was getting used to life without work and a particular focus. At first I enjoyed the rest and relaxation but gradually began to feel the need to be useful and to contribute in some way to the society. I investigated various volunteer roles and came across this opportunity via Seek.com. It was particularly interesting to me because our daughter is a cancer survivor and had been a patient at the Royal Children’s some thirty years earlier. I also felt I had the necessary skills and could be of some value in the role. 

What special skills do you bring in your volunteer role? 

Trudi: My working life as a teacher and eventually a Principal of a primary school meant I was constantly communicating with a wide range of people and building relationships. I am a fairly confident personality and feel comfortable chatting to all stakeholders in the hospital environment. My experience has also allowed me to have a strong appreciation for protocols and procedures. 

I really enjoy working with children and value what they think and say. After thirty plus years of teaching I am also able to connect with them in an easy manner.  

I feel I have a great deal of knowledge about people and the experience with my daughters cancer gives me a way to relate to parents in similar positions. I have real empathy for them but also feel at ease discussing significant issues as they may choose.  

What does a typical shift as a Family Connect volunteer look like, from sign in to saying goodbye til next time?

Trudi: Our first task is to collect the morning tea platters from the cafe in the foyer of the hospital. We provide sandwiches and biscuits/slices. After this we head to the Ward the collect our supply trolley which includes the coffee machine, cups, CCF literature etc. Then it’s onto the Day Oncology Clinic where we set up in the corner kitchen area. From here we chat with parents, grandparents and children offering coffee and morning tea. We circulate around the waiting area and then head into the treatment area offering food and coffee or tea. We stop to chat with different people and after a while you get to know a few regulars and catch up with them too. If we’re lucky we have Hilary along with us playing her Ukulele. The kids especially love that and it adds a fun vibe to the clinic. Often we’ll hand out some CCF literature and talk about what services we can provide for them, such as the help with counselling. We’ve built up relationships with the staff now and often they appreciate a little snack too. We just try to be friendly, positive and kind, hopefully brightening everyone’s day just a little. 

What’s the best part of volunteering with Family Connect? 

Trudi: The best part is the feeling of personal satisfaction and the sense I am making a difference no matter how small it may be. 

What have you found the most challenging? 

Trudi: Occasionally someone doesn’t really want to engage with us and they are very private or sad. It is difficult to just let that be, but above all else we have to respect their wishes. It’s also somewhat challenging to wonder what’s happened to a child that you haven’t seen for some time. You are left contemplating their outcome. I find that a bit unsettling.

We recognise that interacting with children and families going though cancer, especially in the hospital environment, can be confronting. What are some selfcare techniques you use when you’ve had a particularly challenging day there? 

Trudi: I always get to the hospital early and have a coffee in the foyer. I do this so I’m not rushing and flustered. After the clinic I stop at the cafe and have a cup of fresh fruit salad and sit and watch the parents and children around me. It gives me time to reflect and consolidate. 

Is there anything that has surprised you about volunteering at Family Connect?

Trudi: I am constantly amazed at how medicine has progressed since my daughter was in the RCH. The ability to provide personalised treatments is incredible. It also surprises me how many charity organisations operate throughout the hospital and the number of support services they offer to families. It is wonderful. I will always be amazed by children’s resilience and ability to have fun during such a challenging time. The team I work with are easy to get along with and I have made some younger new friends! 

Is there anything you have learned from volunteering at Family Connect that you take into your work, relationships or life? 

Trudi: For me, its confirmation of everything I discovered during my daughters illness. We learnt a lifelong lesson. Money and possessions were not important. Material possessions meant nothing. Family and friends were amazing and that meant everything.  Family and friends plays such an immense role in our lives and should be valued and sustained. Volunteering with CCF has validated my beliefs. 

What do you like to get up to when you are not working or volunteering? 

Trudi: Since retiring I’ve had to rediscover myself. Retirement is a little leisurely and self indulgent so I’ve tried to keep busy. I’ve been participating in a zumba/weights class twice a week with friends. Love to do a bit of watercolour painting, create online photo books and help with Grandchildren of course! Lunch and coffee catch ups with friends are frequent. Travel is always an option but during the lockdown period I’ve just done a lot of walking, painting and the gym session online.

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