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In Conversation With...Alix Holmes, our Macmillan Cancer Information Manager

For our next instalment of our In Conversation with…series, we spoke to Alix Holmes, our Macmillan Cancer Information Manager who recently was presented with a long service award after 30 years at our Trust.

Before taking on her current role six years ago, Alix was a nurse in our Oncology department, and was one of the first nurses to be trained to give chemotherapy to patients, early in her career.

Age: 53

Lives: in Kelvedon Hatch with husband Nicholas, 55, and daughters Charlotte, 26, and Hannah, 24.

And: Alix picked up her long service award this week (Monday 10 December) after 30 years at our Trust!

Wow – 30 years at our Trust, what has made you stay so long?

I live locally and it’s convenient working close to home. I also like meeting people who live nearby. I feel like I am serving my local community.

Tell us a bit more about your role

I run our information and support service for our cancer patients and their families. We help them to access support, including welfare benefits and complimentary therapies, and provide an advice service.

Over the last few years we’ve offered a lot more health and wellbeing support. We hold quarterly health and wellbeing events for patients who are post treatment, run by our Living With and Beyond Cancer team; we run Look Good, Feel Better make-up masterclasses; art therapy; creative writing; and relaxation and visualisation.

Our Empower programme (for patients who have been recently diagnosed and gives them all the information they need ahead of their treatment) has been shortlisted for three awards, two HSJ awards and one with the Nursing Times. (Empower stands for Eating well, Managing side effects, Psychological affects, Overview of treatment, Welfare and wellbeing, Exercise and Resources.)

We also run Hope – a programme to ‘Help Overcome Problems Effectively’, which aims to get patients back to normal life quickly, and includes setting weekly goals. And we have a workshop for family and friends.

Our support for our cancer patients’ overall health and wellbeing really sets us apart.

What about before you took on this role?

I’ve been in my current role for six years and I was a nurse for a long time before that!

I did my training a St Thomas’ Hospital and worked there for eight months after I qualified before joining our Trust in January 1988. I started on the male surgical ward under Sister Haherty (who lots of people will remember!) before moving to our oncology ward.

I was one of the first staff nurses to be trained to give chemotherapy. I moved into our cancer day unit in 1995 and became matron and transferred to Queen’s Hospital when it opened.

When this role came up I thought I could use all my expertise of my years working in the Oncology department. It was a different challenge but it was also still the same department, so it wasn’t a huge change.

It’s the best job I’ve ever done.

What is it that you like so much about it?

The best part is the time I can give to my patients. My time is flexible and as I’m not rushing off, I can sit and talk to them.

It’s nice to be able to listen to them and help support them, which is often what patients really need.

Do you have any particularly memorable cases from your time in this role?

Sometimes it’s not even the patients; it can be harder for family and friends. When I was quite new to the job a chap came in who was the husband of a patient. He said he couldn’t cope anymore and had left his wife and tried to commit suicide.

I spent a lot of time talking to him and a week later he contacted me to thank me for listening and said it had made all the difference. He eventually went back to his wife.

You never know who’s going to walk through the door.

As well as recently picking up your long service award, we hear you’ve also been a recipient of a PRIDE Award…

I won in 2015 for innovating and improving. It was for setting up our post-treatment health and wellbeing events.

We were the first in north east London to do it so to get an award was really special. It was nice to be nominated and I didn’t think I’d win, so it was lovely when I did.

What the next big thing you’re looking forward to at work?

Now we have the Cedar Centre at King George Hospital we have our own dedicated space for health and wellbeing for our cancer patients.

We’ve got big plans for it! We’re looking forward to developing more workshops, including drama, dance and singing.

That leads on onto your role as a co-founder of our own PRIDE choir…

Mike Dixie and I were co-founders. My dad was a vicar so I’d always sung in church and youth choirs growing up, and I’ve been a member of the Wallace Singers, a choir in Brentwood, since 1997 and am now the chairman.

The idea for our own choir started four years ago when the Gareth Malone TV series was on and Lewisham Hospital’s choir was involved.

Our PRIDE Choir has been running for three years now and it’s a lovely thing. We’ve all become good friends and as we’re from different departments, I wouldn’t necessarily have known them otherwise.

When I have a bad day and then go the choir practice, I leave feeling so much better.

We’ve recently been visiting our wards to sing Christmas carols and it’s been so humbling, the staff and patients really appreciate it. (You can still join us – we’ll be singing on wards at Queen’s Hospital tomorrow – Thursday 13 December – meet at the information desk in the atrium at 5.15pm, everyone is welcome. We’ll be visiting the rest of the wards at Queen’s on Thursday 20 December.)

Singing is my main interest outside work – it’s really good for your health, research shows it stimulates the brain and releases endorphins.

I’m also involved in my local church, Brentwood Cathedral, and I go to Slimming World – I’ve lost four and a half stone over the last two years, my eldest daughter comes too and she lost seven stone!

And our favourite question of In Conversation With… do you have any pets?

We have two dogs, Harley, a cockapoo who’s six and Wilson, a cavashon (a King Charles spaniel cross with a bichon frise), who’s four. My husband is besotted with Harley, while Wilson is my boy, he’s so laid back he’s almost like a cat!