An international author and renowned Macmillan Cancer Support fundraiser has become the first ambassador for ASTRiiD (Available Skills for Training, Refreshing, Improvement, Innovation and Development) - a ground-breaking charity that connects talented people suffering from long-term illness with businesses who need skilled volunteers or staff.
Lincolnshire mum Fiona Goldsby, 42, was diagnosed with a benign tumour in 2008 which quickly became aggressive in 2010 when she was given 18 months to three years to live, forcing her to leave her full-time job.
Eight years on and Fiona credits finding a meaningful role in fundraising as a major factor in her ability to outlive her prognosis. Now an ASTRiiD ambassador, she is an inspiration to the 700,000 people of working age that are living with cancer each year in the UK., flying the flag for the benefits of meaningful work on a person’s ability to continue to gain life rewards, despite the challenges of chronic illness.
Fiona, author of Tallulah Tumour-Friend of Foe? said: “Being diagnosed at just 32 with a child of 10 at the time, was a blow to the whole family and the journey since has been a rollercoaster of highs and lows. I was adamant, however, that when my time came, I wanted to leave a positive legacy for my son, Lewis, so he knew what his mum had achieved and what it meant to be brave.”
At the time of diagnosis Fiona, from Nocton was the Business Support Manager for her local authority with responsibility for a team within the Highways division. When an MRI scan revealed that her tumour was growing aggressively Fiona was booked in for an operation to remove it and had to go on sick leave from work.
Fiona commented: “It’s an awful feeling when you are forced to take time off sick and it’s amazing how quickly you feel replaced and no longer needed, a bit like maternity leave.
“When it was decided that I was just not well enough to return to work I had a mixture of emotions. I felt relieved as I knew that I couldn’t cope with the pressures of full-time work and the thought of taking a day off sick would have filled me with guilt. After a week or so, I felt incredibly isolated. My husband Roy would leave for work and as I’d had to give up my driver’s licence my friend had to take Lewis to school for me. I felt completely alone, made so much worse by having my daily routine taken away from me.”
Fiona’s treatment started in February 2010 and included surgery to remove the tumour and radiotherapy, which made her lose her hair. Six months later, Fiona learned the tumour had returned so chemotherapy was required with immediate effect and despite trying to remain positive, it had a massive impact.
In August 2011 Fiona was finally told that her tumour had shrunk and was stable. Having had the support of two Macmillan nurses throughout her journey, she organised a coffee morning fundraiser. So much did she enjoy focussing her energies on something positive, Fiona decided to get more involved in the charity and since 2013 has raised a quarter of a million pounds for Macmillan Cancer Support.
“The key to getting better from any illness is being positive. Loneliness and sadness are negative emotions which fester and do no good. But, when you feel you are doing something worthwhile, it has an impact. You want to get out of bed in the morning, you want to achieve. Humans need social interaction and we need to feel that we are contributing to society – and that’s why I’m passionate about ASTRiiD and my new role as a charity ambassador.”
"Humans need social interaction and to feel that we are contributing to society and that's why I'm passionate about ASTRiiD and my role as a charity ambassador."
Founded in July 2017 by David Shutts, OBE, ASTRiiD is an online matchmaking service that provides meaningful work to those with long-term, often incurable and advanced health problems. The charity seeks to leverage the ‘invisible talent pool’ – skilled people living with chronic illness, who have slipped off the employment radar and have the potential to bridge the UK’s skills gap.
Fiona explained: “I met David two years ago, when I received Macmillan’s Vicky Clement-Jones Award for sharing my experience with others and making a positive contribution to cancer patients’ lives. David had recently been diagnosed with incurable and inoperable advanced cancer so we kept in touch as I knew the importance of keeping connections after initial diagnosis. Since then I have seen him utilise his incredible leadership and business experience to develop and found ASTRiiD at a time when he could have let the negative impact of his prognosis beat him – he is a true inspiration.”
David Shutts, OBE said: “I had enjoyed a very busy, very fulfilling career with the Royal Navy, and later with the CBI as Regional Director but my prognosis left me feeling pretty much ignored, on the scrapheap with nowhere to go or anyone to turn to. I became aware of the true value of work and just how much it offers in terms of self-worth, self-esteem and interaction.”
Realising that there must be millions of others like himself feeling cast aside because of a particular diagnosis, yet still with valuable skills and experiences to offer, the idea for ASTRiiD was born.
With the help of his old Naval colleague, Simon Short, head of growth at the cloud computing company, Salesforce, David founded ASTRiiD – an online tool that matches individuals with businesses that need their talents for paid or unpaid work. Jobseekers describe their skills and how and when they can work; employers list the work they have available and ASTRiiD links them up.
David concluded: “I have a vision for ASTRiiD - if one person helps one business improve and by doing so fights their disease such that they outlive their given prognosis, then ASTRiiD has fulfilled its purpose. Extending this vision to a global basis would make ASTRiiD a true trailblazer and ambassadors like Fiona will help to realise this goal.”
For further information on ASTRiiD, to sign up as a business partner or become a member, visit https://astriid.force.com/s/.
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