IF you’ve been driving around Sheffield very much in the past few weeks you’ll have seen rather a lot of Wendy Cooper.
At 56 years old, the last thing Wendy ever expected was that she would become the star of a major poster campaign, her face smiling down from billboards across Sheffield.
But then the other thing she never thought would happen to her is that she would spend a decade of her life living with cancer.
Yet it is her positive approach to life with a terminal illness that made her the perfect star of a new publicity campaign for St Luke’s Hospice, where she is a patient.
Wendy’s attitude to her illness is perfectly summed up by the message on the posters: “I’m still here. Still Nannan. Still Wendy.”
It’s a positive response that has helped her through the ten years since she was first diagnosed with cancer, bolstered by the support of daughter Emma, son Luke and nine-year-old grandson Kayden.
“It was Christmas time and I thought I just had indigestion,” she remembers.
“I came into the hospital and that was when they told me I had breast cancer. Then two weeks after that I was told I had bone cancer – and not long back I found out I had liver cancer.”
At the time of the initial diagnosis Wendy, who lives in the Intake area and was then still working as an assistant at Sheffield’s Talbot Special School, also discovered that daughter Emma was pregnant.
“Emma thought she had kidney problems so I took her to hospital and we found out then that she was just two weeks pregnant,” Wendy says.
“I was convinced that I wouldn’t be here to see the baby being born but I was and it was one of the best moments of my life.
“If anything, since then, my condition has brought me even closer to Kayden, he’s grown up with it and he takes it all in his stride.”
It is that level of family support that helps Wendy remains positive and if she does have inevitable moments of doubt and fear for the future, they are not the ones she chooses to share.
“When you hear the Big C all all you think is: ‘I’m going to die.’ My mum died of cancer and I just thought: ‘I’m going the same way,’” she says, though it is clear that she still believes very strongly that she has plenty of life to live and that with the support of the St Luke’s team she will be able to do just that.
Wendy is a patient at Weston Park Cancer Hospital - one of only four dedicated cancer hospitals in the country – and it was through her specialist there that she eventually received a referral to St Luke’s.
“St Luke’s has been a big part of my life,” Wendy admits. “My specialist at Weston Park always knows when I’m feeling a bit down.
“She thinks: ‘We’ll send her up to her favourite place, send her to St Luke’s.’ And it is my favourite place.”
Wendy is a regular at the St Luke’s Therapies and Rehabilitation Centre where she has found that the support of art therapy sessions has been invaluable.
And is where she has discovered a talent she never knew she had – making her own unique design silk scarves, which she then sells to raise funds for St Luke’s.
“Over the years I’ve made many of these scarves,” she says.
“I sell them at at schools where I used to work.
“It’s just to give something back. Doing this is the only way I know how, something I don’t think I want to be stopping soon – I just love it!”
Wendy knows too that she gets far more out of the hospice than the pleasure of discovering a talent for art and creativity.
“It means ever such a lot, especially when you’re feeling like you’re all alone,” she explains.
“Everybody picks you up.”
Like every St Luke’s patient, however, Wendy adds that she was uncertain what to expect when she first visited the hospice.
“I think everyone’s surprised,” she says. “They don’t know what to expect on that first visit, they’re a bit nervous.
“But they come in and have a cup of tea and it’s just a different way of life when they come in here. I
“It’s just a great place to be.
“It is my favourite place and it means a lot – the day centre, the people.“St Luke’s helps me to remember that I’m still me. St Luke’s is a big part of my life.”
St Luke’s Hospice cares for people aged 18 and above throughout Sheffield who have incurable illnesses, controlling their symptoms, alleviating pain and giving them the best possible quality of life – all completely free of charge.
Every year St Luke’s cares for more than 1,700 patients, and supports their families and carers – helping about 5,000 people in total.
At any one time the hospice is caring for up to 20 patients in its In Patient Centre – 400 in any one year.
Throughout the city the St Luke’s community nurses are caring for around 400 patients in their own homes – around 1,400 every year.
And every year individual programmes of therapies, treatments and advice at the hospice’s Therapies and Rehabilitation Centre help around 300 patients to live independently at home for as long as possible.
To maintain this level or service, however, St Luke’s has to raise more than £6.1 million every year towards the overall running costs of £8.7 million – and to achieve that it depends on the continued generosity of the people of Sheffield.
To find out how you can get involved in supporting St Luke’s simply visit www.slukeshospice.org.uk