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Hospice Care Week: Volunteer couple connecting to patients using massage.
Complementary therapy is far more than just a beauty treatment as an inspirational couple discovered on a life changing visit to Thailand.
Anne Newbon, 52, and Martin Davies, 51, regularly volunteer at Saint Francis Hospice on a Friday where they offer a range of complementary therapies such as massage, reiki and reflexology to patients with life limiting illnesses.
But it was only during a three year sabbatical in 2005 in which they gained valuable life experience travelling across South America, India and Southeast Asia, that a chance encounter in Thailand led them to discover the true power of massage therapy.
"I was looking for a Thai massage and was recommended to visit Sin Chai, who was a blind therapist," said Anne. "I had always enjoyed receiving complementary therapy but this one person completely changed our life.
"He had worked in hospitals for 40 years giving massage to patients. That was the first time I really thought about massage being more than about pampering. It was actually healing."
Leanne Smith, enjoying a neck massage.
Anne persuaded Martin, who had previously been reluctant to try complementary therapy, to visit Sin Chai and he came away with a completely new perspective.
"As he was giving me the massage I remember feeling as if it was opening me up," he said. "I felt really healthy and it was a wonderful feeling. That was what really started me on this path and when I started to look at things differently.
"It started me thinking about how I looked after myself and it taught me to observe and take note of people."
Anne and Martin, who received a five year Long Service Award from the hospice this year, studied with Sin Chai every day for two months and they were determined not to waste the skills they had learned when they returned to England.
"I always wanted to do it on a voluntary basis and for other people to experience what we had experienced," said Anne.
The dynamic pair, who have been together for 12 years and live in Ilford, completed a number of courses and as soon as they qualified they came to the hospice, where they gained experience while offering a service to staff and volunteers for two and a half years.
"It was really good for us because we could practise in a safe environment and we got to know all the staff," said Martin.
They now use their skills to help patients relax, de-stress and work alongside staff and volunteer therapists, as well as a multi-disciplinary team, to manage their pain and symptoms.
"It is wonderful that we are given the opportunity to help people to switch off and take time out for themselves," said Anne.
"As well as relieving pain, patients also benefit from the sense of touch. They can do whatever they want for half an hour. To be able to give people that time and space is really a privilege."
According to research around of one third of people with cancer in the UK use some sort of complementary therapy and while it does not claim to cure people or replace medicine and treatment it certainly makes people feel better and helps them to cope with their illness.
"Complementary therapy is respected at the hospice and patients are referred to us," said Anne. "Doctors, nurses and counsellors have seen how complementary therapies have helped their patients."
Coming to the hospice is now an important part of their lives and always puts their stresses and worries into perspective.
"It is such a great leveller," said Anne. "I may have had a rotten day but when I come in here I leave it all behind and switch off from everything that has happened in the week."
Leanne Smith, 42, suffers from Friedreich Ataxia, a rare disease which affects the central nervous system. She has been visiting the Day Unit for the past seven years and always looks forward to receiving complementary therapies from Anne and Martin.
"I absolutely love it and it is one of the main reasons I come to the Day Unit," said Leanne, who lives with her parents in Hornchurch.
"I have had hand massage, back massage, shoulder massage, reflexology and reiki. You have to try all of them at least once! Sometimes I have really achy shoulders and after a massage my shoulders feel like brand new.
"The therapies make me feel so relaxed that I want to go to sleep."
Leanne paid tribute to Anne and Martin's caring nature.
"It is so special that they give up their time for people," she said. "They are so friendly and do such wonderful things. They are such open caring people and nothing seems to phase them."
And Leanne also says the hospice is a long way from being the depressing and gloomy place she once believed it to be.
"When my doctor first talked about putting me in touch with a hospice I thought, I am not dying," she added. "I had a vision of it being a dark and sad place with lots of beds but it is nothing like that at all.
"It is such a bright place and when I come in everyone is wonderful and so friendly. When I leave my home and come to the hospice I feel like I am coming home."