Not many people get to have a job where they open emails like this every day:
“thank you for such a wonderful experience”
“this couldn’t have come at a better time”
“you guys rock!!!“
My name is Alexis and I’ve been running a service called Ellie’s Friends for a few years now. We give gifts and experiences to people living with cancer and their families and friends, basically to give them a bit of a lift at a difficult time. I was motivated to work for a cancer charity because my mum has been living with secondary breast cancer for ten years – her primary diagnosis came when my brother was six – so I understand the impact that cancer can have on families.
Last year Ellie’s merged with the wonderful Maggie’s. This has allowed me to reach so many more people who are in need of a bit of a break – we now have more than 4,000 people registered with us and it’s growing all the time. Maggie’s has 22 centres throughout the UK and last year supported 280,000 people.
It’s a lovely synergy too. Ellie’s Friends was founded in celebration of Ellie Jeffery by her fiancee Tom Thostrup. Ellie was one of the first wave of cancer bloggers, and wrote about wanting to “Make the Big C Smaller.” Maggie Keswick Jencks was determined that people should “not lose the joy of living in the fear of dying.”
What I really love about my job is the feedback I get. We might only be offering the smallest of things but it makes a big difference to people to be able to put their worries on hold for a small period of time, perhaps laugh at a comedian, or enjoy some luxury at a spa. One of the people we support, Anouska, told us: “Treats and nights out are the first things that are sacrificed when cancer strikes. Full time work becomes impossible so finances are hit and cut-backs are made. Ellie’s Friends offer a little piece of sunshine in, what can be, a very dark time.”
Sometimes we get big donations – we’ve just received 100 tickets to go and see Disney’s Aladdin in London’s West End in July, for example. We work with some brilliant organisations – the lovely Jennifer Young has been amazing in training spa hotel therapists in oncology massage techniques and they offer us regular spa days in some really swanky hotels. Some of our most popular gifts are our mailed items such as vouchers for Nando’s and River Island, CD packs from Decca Records and books from Give A Book. Most of our gifts are offered each month so if you’re not successful first time we encourage you to keep applying.
What I’d really like to achieve in the future is getting more gifts. If anyone reading this has friends who run hotels, restaurants, theatre companies, clothing, beauty product or gift companies, anywhere in the UK, do ask them to donate something to brighten someone’s day! They can get hold of me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Increasingly we are finding that recipients post pictures and thanks on social media which makes it really special for the people who donate.
Full disclosure: Sara was two years older than me at school and very cool. My childhood self is therefore delighted to have been asked to write this blog post. I bear a scar on my thumb from her family dog which attacked me when on a sleepover with her sister. I forgive her for this.