A cancer diagnosis at the age of 43 turned midwife Kat’s world upside down. As a single parent she had to cope financially with time off work trying to recover, whilst supporting her two children.
Kat had always liked the idea of becoming a midwife, but after she left school her life took a different direction. She worked various in roles in recruitment, IT and hospitality and also became a mother of two.
After her relationship ended Kat found herself as a single parent and realised she needed a career she could count on to support her young family.
“I thought what am I going to do?” remembers Kat “but I chose midwifery as I’d always had an interest in it and after having my own children and experiencing fantastic maternity care I thought this was for me.”
Kat completed an access course and a year’s experience working as a healthcare assistant before starting her midwifery training. She also helped as a breast-feeding support volunteer at the hospital helping new mums with feeding, which gave Kat an insight into life on the maternity ward. She qualified as a midwife in 2015 at the age of 37.
“I came to midwifery later in life,” says Kat “but I was determined to do it before I was 40!”
Kat’s current role is a Community Midwife at Great Western Hospital and she’s responsible for looking after a caseload of about 45 women.
“I love meeting the women and being on that journey with them through pregnancy, birth and post-natal too,” says Kat “Night shifts are never nice but at 3am when a baby arrives, there’s always something magical in the room at that moment. We’re there with the parents witnessing something that they will never, ever forget.”
Six years on and Kat was enjoying her new career when a visit to her GP changed the course of her life.
“I was having some mild symptoms which I thought was probably nothing, but I was adamant that I wanted it followed up by my GP,” remembers Kat.
“I got a consultant appointment and I remember saying to my colleagues that I was probably making a fuss about nothing and it would be something simple.”
But it wasn’t simple, Kat was diagnosed with bowel cancer.
“I cried a lot,” she recalls “It wasn’t what I had planned for my life obviously, and Covid had been exciting enough up until that point! Now I had cancer to deal with at the age of 43.”
Luckily, scans showed that it was early stages and it hadn’t spread. A month after her diagnosis Kat had surgery to remove a small tumour and has to wear a temporary stoma which, if all goes well with her recovery, could be removed within a year.
Due to her chemotherapy treatment weakening her immune system, Kat has been unable to return to face-to-face midwifery work as she’s deemed too vulnerable whilst Covid-19 restrictions continue. Consequently, Kat has struggled financially whilst trying to focus on her recovery.
“Luckily, the treatment I’m on means I’m able to do some admin work at home but not my full hours,” explains Kat “I’m also not able to put in the extra shifts to top up my wages to pay for the little extras for the children. And in the middle of it all my washing machine stopped working! I just couldn’t find the money to replace or repair it.”
Added to this, Kat’s children both needed new school uniform before the autumn term started. A colleague told Kat about the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Benevolent Fund, so she applied.
“I didn’t like having to ask for help and will always look to try and manage my way around problems. Normally, if an appliance needed replacing for example, I would work extra shifts to cover it. But I just wasn’t able to this year.”
The RCM fund is administered by Cavell Nurses’ Trust, the charity supporting UK midwives, nurses and healthcare assistants who are facing a personal or financial crisis. Kat was able to access money to replace her washing machine, buy school uniform for her children and pay outstanding bills.
“The help from Cavell and the RCM took the pressure off me worrying about how to pay for things and it let me worry about my treatment and recovery” says Kat.
Once a week, Kat is able to meet up with her colleagues and keep in touch with what’s going on at work.
“That gives me a big boost and I couldn’t have got to where I am now in my recovery without my team. We’re like a big family and I’m the annoying younger sister! I wish I could do more to help them but they just keep saying that I need to concentrate on getting well again. Along with my parents, my team have been incredible.”
Kat’s recovery is going well but she’s keen that people not be afraid to ask for help and advice about their health.
“I’ve learnt how to listen to my body,” she says “if something doesn’t feel right then speak up and get checked over. For me it worked as my tumour was very small as we got to it early. I would urge people to listen to their bodies and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.”
Kat is also grateful that there are colleagues donating to and fundraising for organisations like Cavell and the RCM Benevolent Fund to help people in her situation.
“I think in the NHS you’re all one family. And it’s amazing to think that there are people who you don’t even know but have got your back, that’s amazing! For me it meant that I’m not sinking and that I can get through this scary, difficult time.
“If anyone is thinking of donating or fundraising to support colleagues, I would say go head, 100%!” says Kat “There could be someone really struggling and just knowing that support is out there really helps. You never know when your life will suddenly change.”