Patient story: The ‘full circle’ of support helped me to feel alive
George Norton was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at the age of 23. Below he talks us through his treatment journey at St George’s and how a chance meeting with Suzanne Ruggles in 2005 – who later founded the Full Circle Fund in 2015 – played a key role in his recovery and led to his role as a Trustee for the fund.
The Full Circle Fund is an independent charity, based at St George’s, which provides a therapy service for patients having life-saving treatment for conditions such as cancer, leukaemia and sickle cell disorder.
Full Circle therapists offer a range of therapies including massage, reiki, hypnotherapy, mindfulness, reflexology and relaxation training.
George said: “The clinical treatment our amazing medical staff deliver at St George’s gives us the best possible chance of surviving physically. But what about the other parts of us? How do we cope with symptoms, worries and the long, dark nights in hospital? This was something my first haematology consultant, Dr Fenella Willis, understood.
Dr Willis said: “I recognised early in my haematology career that conventional treatments for diseases such as leukaemia focused solely on curing the underlying disease. Patients were also experiencing significant psychological trauma, having been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and then facing months of intensive treatment, often in isolation and away from their usual support network.”
Turning a difficult day into a good one
George said: “I first encountered Full Circle Fund Therapies before it even existed. Suzanne Ruggles was working on the Ruth Myles Unit where I was an inpatient. She told me about her vision for treating patients beyond the clinical necessities, and I told her about my belief that something as simple as a bacon sandwich could be enough to turn a difficult day into a good one.
“By the time a relapse of my leukaemia returned me to the Ruth Myles Unit five and a half years after finishing my treatment, Suzanne had set up Full Circle and it was bringing everyday comfort, relief and joy to lift the spirits of people with life-threatening and life-limiting illnesses across St George’s.
“Among the many side-effects of my intensive chemotherapy was peripheral neuropathy, making my fingers and toes feel numb. The Full Circle team used reflexology, hypnotherapy and massage to ease such symptoms: symptoms that medicine cannot reach.
“Five years ago, as I recovered from a stem cell transplant after my relapse, I met up with Suzanne in our old haunt, Peabody’s, where she asked me to join Dr Willis on the board of Full Circle, as a Trustee.
“I looked back on how vital the ‘full circle’ of support beyond the clinical had been to keep me feeling alive, hopeful and able to cope with the uncertainties and challenges of leukaemia and its treatment.
“I said yes. If I could play even the smallest role in transforming the lives of patients by bringing this charity the attention and support it needs, it would be worth it.”
For more information about the Full Circle Fund, please visit their website: www.fullcirclefund.org.uk, or contact the team via 0208 725 5503.