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Melanie’s Story

Melanie Simmonds is a trustee of Willowbrook Hospice and retired NHS Board-level accountant. She has recently been admitted to the Hospice.

Many supporters and friends of Willowbrook will know Melanie. She is the Chair of the Finance sub-group of the Board of Trustees of Willowbrook Hospice, and prior to this had a long career in the NHS, having been involved in the funding of large projects both locally and further afield. Very recently she was diagnosed with incurable cancer, and requested admission to Willowbrook so that she’s able to live well in the time she still has.

Many of you will know Melanie from Willowbrook events. She has attended our Christmas Fayres and Light Up A Life celebrations over the years, as well as working behind the scenes as a trustee, using her expertise to support all aspects of financial management for the Hospice. Others will know her through the NHS, where she worked for 40 years helping to finance and build projects including Whiston Hospital, Alder Hey and most recently Leeds General Infirmary. Colleagues have said that without Melanie’s work on the Alder Hey project, it may never have happened. This commitment to her work is also shown in her voluntary roles: When she retired from full-time work in 2016, she carried on part-time but wanted to take on some voluntary work. As well as volunteering as a trustee at Belgrave Academy Schools in Stoke-on-Trent and providing valuable experience as they navigated the process of becoming an academy, she also volunteered locally at Cronton Sixth Form College and at Willowbrook.

Willowbrook was being built when Melanie was working at Whiston Hospital, and she knew some of the founders and ambassadors of the Hospice. She was pleased to be asked to join the Board of Trustees by Chairman Alan Chick, and has spoken fondly of how everyone involved with the Hospice pulled together during the Covid-19 pandemic. She felt that during this crisis everyone was committed to offering the same service, with care and compassion, throughout the difficult times. Everyone at Willowbrook worked hard and put plans together to ensure the survival of the Hospice, but she was also impressed with how the community took on this challenge; she felt the girls who organised the Scarecrow Festival during the height of the pandemic in 2020 had done an amazing job, and felt credit should go to them and others in the community who donated and fundraised for Willowbrook during a very difficult time.

Melanie went to A&E at Whiston around a month ago with her husband Alan and sister Issy, a nurse, due to symptoms she was experiencing. She received excellent care from the Ward Manager, and after spending a short time on the observation ward then the gastric ward, she was given a diagnosis of carcinoma of the oesophagus. She was given the option of having an oesophageal stent procedure, but was told there would be a low chance of success. Straight away she asked to go to Willowbrook, and within a couple of days she was admitted to the Hospice.

At Willowbrook, Melanie’s symptoms are managed by the clinical and medical teams. They give her nutrition and vitamin supplements, as she can’t eat normally. At Willowbrook she feels “relaxed, calm, happy”. She had trouble getting support at home and it was traumatic having to deal with symptoms at home; she wanted to be at Willowbrook because, “palliative care allows you to live well.”

Her family Alan, John, Jess and sister Issy have been able to visit, and they both agreed that Melanie was in the right place. Her daughter Jess felt it was clear that the care her mum was receiving was specialist and experienced, and said that, “at Willowbrook, nothing is too small. They do lots of tiny things to make the day more bearable and try so many different things.” Issy agreed that the staff were “so creative” in the ways they tried to help, and wanted to emphasise that the Hospice is “a place of joy and compassion. People don’t get that; you can relax and be yourself.”

Melanie’s mum, Carol (85), has also visited. She wasn’t sure what to expect but was so pleased when she came and particularly loved the gardens. The family were slightly worried about the visiting restrictions at the Hospice due to Covid-19, but agreed it was better than the 24 hour access at hospital as it meant that Melanie is also able to get enough rest. Melanie has also been able to have valuable video calls with friends and family in New Zealand and Hong Kong who are unable to visit. She also has family in Dubai who are already fundraising for Willowbrook.

Melanie has already asked friends and family to donate to Willowbrook in lieu of flowers, and would like that to continue. Some of the bedrooms need to be refurbished, and she would love to raise some money for the Hospice to be able to do that. We have set up a fundraising appeal in Melanie’s name; if you would like to donate, please go to:

Everyone at Willowbrook sends their best wishes and thanks to Melanie and her family.

Dr Paula Powell, Medical Director, shared this message:

There is no doubt that Mel played a huge part in steering Willowbrook through the financial challenges we have faced due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Willowbrook is here for those people in our community who find themselves, as Mel has, seeking support for themselves and their families at a time when it can feel that nothing more can be done. Our team help manage the symptoms, emotional and social distress that can come along with a diagnosis of incurable illness. Our aim is to help people live as well as they can for as long as they can.

We are grateful to Mel and her family for telling her story and letting others know the positive impact Willowbrook has had at a very difficult time. We want to help more Mels in the future. One way of doing this is to make a donation via her appeal.

You can be sure it will make a difference.

Due to the current situation with Coronavirus and for the wellbeing of our patients, we kindly ask that all monetary donations are paid direct to our bank account, via online access to Nat West Bank: 

Alternatively, use the DONATE NOW button that appears on each page of our website.

To donate £5, text HELPWILLOWBROOK to 70450.