Specialist oncology nurse Amy Byfield knows how daunting it can be for patients when they arrive for their first chemotherapy session.
Which explains why she’s spent the last eighteen months masterminding a personalised box to give to each person – regardless of age, gender or cancer type.
Now, thanks to a team effort that includes both staff and patients, products are being assembled for the first 100 Heart of Headland Boxes of Kindness.
Amy is a mum from St Merryn who, after working in pubs and bars for years, qualified as a nurse in 2015. Initially based in the community, she joined the oncology unit at the Royal Cornwall Hospital Truro (RCHT) nearly six years ago.
It was a visit to North Devon District Hospital, however, that inspired the box idea.
“ChemoHero boxes were started by breast cancer patient Lisa Wallis in 2014,” said Amy.
“Going through her own treatment made her realise what a lonely, frightening experience it can be so she came up with the idea of compiling a list of items that would help counter the chemotherapy side effects. “
Sadly, Lisa passed away but the charity she founded continues to help thousands of others.
“Our new patients are recommended products to help them too, but the cost of buying them can mount up – especially on top of all the hospital travel required. I started looking into doing boxes of our own and, after a lot of research, Heart of Headland is becoming a reality.”
Each Box of Kindness consists of £45 worth of carefully selected goods, including a digital thermometer, ginger tea for nausea, a pill sorter, soft bamboo toothbrush, chocolate to keep up the calorie intake, organic socks, water in a box to keep hydrated, a tin of mints, aromatherapy to help sleep, something to ease dry lips and a mindfulness puzzle book to while away the time during chemo.
“The contents will change depending on product availability but each one will be lovingly packed by a volunteer who signs their name on the box,” said Amy. “That’s important because we want it to feel both special and personal.”
The Headland unit at RCHT see about 50 patients each day and all tumours are treated there – wherever they might be in the body. Highly specialised nurses like Amy are dedicated to making the experience as comfortable and uplifting as possible.
“Our staff are incredible and very passionate about creating a cheerful, caring atmosphere. Each new patient will be given a box and a member of our team will sit with them whilst they open it, explaining every product and why it’s important.”
The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Charity has coordinated fundraising for the first 100 boxes of kindness and a team of volunteer packers will put them together before the official Heart of Headland launch on 1 December.
“One of our primary aims as a charity is to help patients feel more comfortable and supported and giving one of these boxes to every new chemotherapy patient is a way of easing them into treatment,” said Karen Murrish, the charity’s fundraising manager. “A cancer diagnosis is horrible enough without the added worry and cost of buying items to improve that journey.
“Amy’s initiative is brilliant and we’ll be doing all we can as a fundraising team to encourage donations and enable more boxes in the coming months and years.”
A Just Giving page has been created for anyone wishing to donate: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/heartofheadland
For more information about the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Charity, please visit https://charity.royalcornwallhospitals.nhs.uk/.