A recipe for nursing – a dash of kindness & understanding, a pinch of empathy & compassion and a sprinkle of goodwill & laughter.

15 December 2021

From growing up with four brothers in Malaysia to living at a convent boarding school in Singapore, Mary talks about her life and being a CNS Haematology and Chemotherapy Nurse at Kingston Hospital.

Born in Malaysia to a Singaporean father and Malaysian mother, Mary shares her roots: “My father was half Indian and half Portuguese, and my mother was half Indian and half Burmese. My late husband, Brian was Scottish. I love my Scottish heritage. Both our daughters have Scottish names: Fiona and Zoe.” 

Mary’s parents’ work meant they travelled to different countries. She explains: “With four brothers, my mum thought it would be better for me if I went to a boarding school in Singapore. It was a safe place and it was there that I was able to nurture my caring side that would eventually lead me to nursing. I learnt to cook and grow fruit and vegetables in the convent gardens. I also learnt to play musical instruments and sang in the choir. In retirement, I plan to take up piano again.

“Life in the convent taught me many things about myself, as well as my education I cared for the aging nuns so learnt from a very young age the importance of kindness and compassion. I have always been humble and never changed my personality. I’m the same now as when I was younger.”

After her subsequent nurse training, Mary went on to study psychiatry at St Thomas’ Hospital and then joined Professor Peter Fenwick’s team as a research nurse at The Priory Hospital, Roehampton, she says: “During the ten years I was there, we carried out sphenoidal EEGs to study depression, sleep problems and behavioural change during illnesses.”

“When you’re nursing, you don’t just use your skills, knowledge and experience. You use your compassion and empathy, while practising the NMC Code.”

In 1989 Mary joined Kingston Hospital as the Hospital Hotel Manager and stayed in this role for almost 10 years whilst bringing up her daughters. She joined the League of Friends and at that time Norman Lamont was the League’s president, she tells us: “We raised £20,000 for the KingstonCan cancer scanner appeal. I loved it, for four years I helped run car boot sales and organised a black-tie dinner in the nurses’ home which is now Vera Brown House.”

Life changed significantly for Mary in 1998, when her husband, Brian was diagnosed with cancer: “I quickly completed my return to practice and went back into nursing, mainly to get a deeper understanding about cancer. Although you would never wish suffering on your family or yourself, being a patient or seeing a loved one seriously ill can make you better equipped to understand your patients.”

“Caring for my patients by making them a cup of tea, having a proper chat, genuinely listening to them, and making them smile/laugh are just as important to me as giving them their treatment.”

Working on Derwent, a haematology ward at that time, Mary met Lesley Chamberlin who steered her into haematology, cancer, and chemotherapy, Mary now works in the Maxwell Thorne Haematology Day Unit, she says:

“It’s a joy sometimes to be able to offer hope of remission (or even recovery) to people who think that all is lost. The care we give isn’t just for the sick but also for their loved ones. If we help the relatives and friends, they are then able to give the necessary support to the patients.”

“Lesley and I have supported each other over the years when life has been tough, it’s essential that colleagues look out for each other.”

We asked Mary what’s her secret ingredients to life: “I enjoy being kind and I love cooking. I cook to raise money for good causes. I love gardening too. I have a big garden. I bring seeds from around the world and try to grow them. I grow all sorts of things and I cook for the unit. I’m also a big tennis buff. I go to Wimbledon every year.”

After 46 years working as a nurse, Mary is now retiring. She says: “I feel it’s time to take things a little easier and spend time with my husband Paul – we’ve been married for 7 years, and the family.  I have loved every moment of my 32 years at Kingston Hospital, great memories some challenging times and fun times and tears too. I think the NHS is brilliant. It’s a sacred cow. It’s a very giving system. The people who work within the NHS, particularly at Kingston, are a rich mixture of cultural and diverse backgrounds, our shared vocation brings us together, which makes it a very special place to work.”

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