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Martin York, who was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer at the age of 55, has spoken out to urge men to be vigilant in checking for symptoms of the disease and not let embarrassment keep them from getting the simple check-ups that could save their lives. He wants to leave a legacy to the men of the city to help protect their health.

With prostate cancer affecting 1 in 8 men, Martin is passionate about spreading the message that, while the disease tends to occur in those aged over 65, younger men are also at risk and that getting diagnosed early can improve the prognosis for those who have the condition.

Martin said, “I was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 2017, and the disease had been doing its worst inside my body for three to four years so I went straight onto chemotherapy. It was very debilitating and I spent most of the next five months in bed.”

A keen Plymouth Argyle FC supporter, Martin was keen to give something back to the club and at their invitation spoke to the players in the dressing room to share his story and help raise awareness of prostate cancer and its symptoms.

He said: “Men don’t like talking about anything below their belts, which is ridiculous. It’s too late for me, but it’s not too late for others. If you’re in any doubt at all, see your GP for a simple check-up.”

Martin, who has been married to Penny for 24 years, came into the care of St Luke’s expert team when he needed help to control his pain and was admitted to the our specialist unit at Turnchapel.

Just as passionate about debunking unhelpful myths around hospice care as he is about urging men to prioritise their health, he said: “I went in not knowing what it would be like, but I was very pleasantly surprised how friendly, light and airy the unit was. It was like a five-star hotel.”

St Luke’s specialist care and support for Martin did not stop when he made the decision to be discharged home. Thanks to the charity’s multidisciplinary At Home team, which looks after half of all the patients St Luke’s sees across Plymouth, South West Devon and East Cornwall, everything was in place to make his transition from the unit as smooth as possible.

Penny said: “A lot of people think that when you go into the hospice building, you’re never coming out again. This couldn’t have been further from the truth for Martin, and it was his choice to come home. The day he returned was remarkable, with all the kit already in place, thanks to St Luke’s occupational therapist Shaen. He made sure Martin had everything that was needed, from easy chairs and hoists to a special bed.

“Martin is a very special man, I will always be grateful to St Luke’s for this gift they’ve given us – Martin at home where he belongs so we can have this precious time together knowing that if we need it, help is just a phone call away. The kindness and sensitivity of the team is making such a difference to us at a really difficult time.

“I am incredibly proud of Martin and want to echo his words to other men: If you have even the slightest concern that something is wrong ‘downstairs’, go straight to see your GP. It could save your life.”

When news came that a patient at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth who desperately wanted to spend precious time with her horse would see her wish fulfilled, the charity’s Communications and Marketing team sprang into action to ensure the horse’s visit to the specialist unit’s grounds to be with his loving owner was captured on video, just as she and her husband wanted. You can read the story here.

Viewed by over 500,000 people online, this moving film not only meant a great deal to the patient and her family, it perfectly illustrates the way the skills of the team dovetail to create impact for St Luke’s, telling our stories both internally to colleagues and externally, including to new audiences as well as loyal supporters.

As with all departments across our charity, it is always ‘patients first’ for this very busy team, led by Head of Communications and Marketing, Robert Maltby, who has been with the charity for over six years. No matter what other work is scheduled, they recognise that prioritising the needs of those in our care is an essential part of making sure they feel special despite their very difficult circumstances.

Robert said: “The film is a great example of the additional people skills involved in our work. It would be easy to think as an outsider a 30-second video is fairly quick and simple to produce. In reality, behind the scenes it took our team of four several days, with many interactions with the patient and their family, to build trust and deliver something that was both respectful and met everybody’s expectations. You are dealing with a situation that can change by the hour and re-purposing content for a multitude of platforms.”

“As a manager, I also have to ensure the health and well-being of my team are a priority, encouraging them to open up about the emotional challenges they may face when working on such an emotive story. It can be very emotionally challenging, but it is a real privilege to be involved with a family at such a personal and private time.”

 

Robert added, “While for many healthcare professionals there are support mechanisms in place, for example ‘clinical supervision’, St Luke’s should be praised for going over and above to support non-clinical staff. Often for every patient video or photo the wider pubic may come across, there are many more videos the team are involved in that stay private for the family. If support wasn’t in place it would ultimately take its toll.”

While the team of four spends much of their time collaborating to make sure the public and other stakeholders, from healthcare professionals to local authorities, are better informed about our vital service, through brochures, feature articles, media relations and social media, they also work hard to meet our charity’s need to engage donors and people willing to fundraise for us to ensure our work continues for generations to come.

From creating and delivering innovative, high-impact print and digital campaigns that help rally thousands to take part in our flagship events such as Tour de Moor and Men’s Day Out, to crafting creative content for Hospice Care Week and the Impact Report, Robert, Jesse (Graphic Designer), Rhianne (Digital Communications Officer)  and Paola (Communications Officer) take pride in producing work that not only boosts awareness but reflects well on the highly professional and compassionate organisation we are.

This commitment to high standards extends to St Luke’s retail network, too. Robert said: “With our chain of over 30 charity shops, as with all our print and digital materials, making sure St Luke’s branding is ‘on point’ is crucial. Our team’s work to build, enhance and protect it is an important part of maintaining the high profile and high esteem we hold in the community and attention to detail really matters. So, whether it’s shop signage, staff uniforms, web pages or leaflets, we are here to make sure the look is right.”

Read the brand and communications guidelines that are the bible behind a great Communications and Marketing team.

When you factor in that the team is also responsible for all St Luke’s social media across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, key internal communications through the intranet and St Luke’s TV screens, and working with the media to deal with their queries and promote important news about our charity, you realise that they are masters of multi-tasking and time management!

The challenges?  “I think our communications challenges are the same as every other hospice in the UK, and that is around the public’s understanding of how hospice care has changed over the years,” said Robert. “People will associate hospice care with a building. That was St Luke’s over 35 years ago. Over 50% of our care is now delivered at home with only 5% in our traditional hospice building.  Taboos around talking about death and dying, and understanding we are about more than just cancer and go beyond serving the city of Plymouth also are communications barriers. However, we are making great progress to change perceptions with stakeholders by ensuring simple key communications messages flow through all our channels at every opportunity.”

What makes a good communications and marketing strategy? “I firmly believe the key to a successful hospice communications and marketing strategy is all about storytelling and a focus on the people. It is not necessarily about the ‘ask’ to get loyal stakeholder buy-in,” said Robert. “As many of my fellow hospice communications professionals will concur, there is a lot more behind the glossy fundraising posters and social media posts. From protecting the reputation of the charity to horizon scanning for new trends and technology, many of these daily tasks happen unnoticed. The future of digital communications is exciting. As regional media declines outside our major cities, becoming self sufficient with your digital content has the potential to reach far greater audiences than relying on a traditional media release”.

Robert concluded, “It’s definitely a challenge though because not only are there so many teams needing our support, we also get affected emotionally when we are meeting patients and their loved ones and telling their personal stories to the world – that’s part of what makes us human.”

Read the stories behind St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth.