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Jack Russell

Everyone involved in this is offering such a fantastic service.

After 30 years as a London firefighter, Jack Russell didn’t take to retirement easily. He missed the camaraderie of working in a team, and he longed for the old feeling of going home each day knowing he had done something worthwhile.

“I felt completely useless, like a spare part,” says Jack who for all those reasons jumped at the opportunity to work as a driver on one of the mobile cancer care units.

The first job however came with a bit of a drawback as it was based at the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds – a two hour journey from his home on the Norfolk Broads. But Jack wasn’t going to let a detail like that stop him.

When I saw that job advertised, I knew I would love it. I wanted to be part of a team again and from day one, despite the travel logistics, I knew I had made the right decision.

Jack managed the gruelling commute for nearly three years until the same opportunity to be a mobile cancer care unit driver came up closer to home, by which time he couldn’t imagine doing anything else, so he was quick to apply.

The driver is the first face people see when they arrive for their treatment on the unit.

“We meet and greet them and get them on board, it’s important to put them at ease and get them seated and relaxed with a cuppa. I sit and have a chat too if I feel they want to,” says Jack.

“But you soon learn to read the room and if people just want to sit quietly that’s ok too.”

As a constant figure on the unit, Jack also gets to know who might have mobility issues so he can prepare in advance to help them on board.

He says: “I always look down the list of names with a nurse as I can recognise the regulars and I can tell immediately if they are going to need any extra help.

“I feel that is an important part of my job. I take pride in making the process as smooth as possible. These people are going through enough without adding any unnecessary stress to their day.”

Jack drives the unit named ‘Amara’ in memory of the wife of John Gillo, the Provincial Grand Master of Mark Master Masons for Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.

The unit is based at Norwich University Hospital and Jack takes it out to three locations a week visiting Attleborough, Beccles and Dereham.

We have four chairs on the unit so it’s a small, intimate environment and it doesn’t take long to get to know people. The nurses I work with are all fantastic, without exception, and that feeling of pulling together to make patients’ lives just that little bit better is what I really love about my job.

“It does also mean it can hit home hard too though when we lose someone. We all feel the sadness like a family,” says Jack.

But alongside the lows, the job also has its fair share of highs. Jack recalls a recent visit to the unit by two daughters of a woman who sadly passed away.

“She had been doing really well until Christmas but then we heard she had died suddenly. It was a shock, but her daughters told us how much their mum had loved coming to the unit,” says Jack.

“She had really appreciated the intimacy and she believed that the one-to-one nursing played a huge part in helping her to tolerate her treatment.

“The sisters said their mum had wanted to give something back for the tremendous care she had received and had been planning a coffee morning to raise money for Hope For Tomorrow to help with funding the units.

“She had got as far as getting the leaflets printed for the event before she died, and her daughters decided to go ahead and host the fundraiser in her memory.

“That brought a tear to my eye,” says Jack, “but it also made me immensely proud of what we do as a team on the unit.”

Jack’s own personal life hasn’t been untouched by serious illness. His mother had breast cancer and a cousin is currently also going through chemotherapy treatment. “I also know a few people in my village who have cancer. It’s a devastating, horrible thing to have to deal with which is why I don’t mind pulling out all the stops to try and make the experience on the unit even just a tiny bit more bearable,” says Jack.

He has also taken part in a fundraiser himself. Two years ago, at the age of 62, he did a sponsored parachute jump with two other people and between them they raised £5,000 for Hope For Tomorrow. Jack laughs at the memory: “I suffer a little from vertigo so once was enough for me, but I was very pleased we raised the money.”

And he adds: “Lots of patients donate to the charity in different ways because they are so grateful to have the mobile units. They are always trying to find ways to give something back. It’s very humbling.”

Jack’s real name is Peter, but after discovering there were several Peters working for the London Fire Service his colleagues gave him a new name. “Jack was the obvious choice because of my surname and everyone, even my wife, have called me Jack for many, many years now,” he says.

Having found the team camaraderie and the job satisfaction he was looking for; Jack says he will carry on driving the unit for as long as he can. As well as meeting and greeting the patients, Jack is responsible for keeping the vehicle on the road by liaising with the charity regarding services and inspections, checking that the parts are working and keeping fuel in the tank.

“It’s not a difficult job but there’s a lot to do and you do have to be very organised. Everything has to be checked every day. That’s my role in the wonderful team I am lucky enough to be a part of, so I am not going to let anyone down, “he says.

As job satisfaction goes, Jack rates driving the unit at 100 per cent and he says he has more than filled that gap for doing something worthwhile after his retirement from the fire service.

“Everyone involved in this is offering such a fantastic service,” he says.

“I am so honoured to be a part of it, and at the end of the working day I can honestly say I go home with a lovely warm glow inside.”

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