My name is Shell and I live in Llanelli along with my six kids and husband. I've been a carer for 22 years. A year ago, life was very different to now. I was recovering from a major operation which had left me pretty much bedridden for the whole of 2015. At the same time, both of our severely disabled boys needed care as did our son who was having problems. My husband was caring for all four of us.
That time stuck in my bedroom made me really reassess my life and I decided to turn around my fitness and health needs - no more excuses! I could hardly walk to the kitchen at the time and it seemed like the challenge of a lifetime. Little did I know that was yet more to come.
I often put the boys' needs first and those of my other three children. Yes, I am a mum of six! You see, when you are caring for your kids with additional needs, it’s a 24/7 commitment. I trained as a coach and mentor so that I could help them more. We were often in hospital or attending outpatient clinics. My boys need emotional support too as well as physical help; it was non-stop. However, I had not realised how much all of the fighting for their rights had actually caught up with me and impacted on my own health and well-being.
That time in my room gave me time to reflect. What was it I really wanted to do with my life, where was I heading, what needed to change?
So I decided that not only my fitness need to drastically improve, but I also needed some "me time", as does every carer, somewhere in the madness of daily life.
In August 2016, I saw a friend of mine was going to be walking The Great Wall Of China for Tŷ Hafan. I thought, I could manage a walk, I love walking and I had always wanted to walk the Great Wall. Hmmm...could I be brave enough to do this and raise money for this fabulous charity? I had always encouraged my kids to go for their dreams and do what made them happy. However, I had not been listening to my own advice! Decision made: I would sign up. It was only a walk after all…
The next few months a few of us named the China Dolls got to work fundraising and planning our trip. At times raising the money seemed impossible, but our local Tŷ Hafan fundraising manager Shelley supported us all the way and helped us get to the goal of raising £3,000 each. Blood sweat and tears got us there, literally. We wanted to make a difference to the families at Tŷ Hafan. After a hospice tour, we knew what a happy place it is and what an amazing service they provide for the kids, siblings and parents.
It didn’t really hit that we were going until meeting the other people who were doing the trip at the airport. The camaraderie started straight away - we were a team. The journey was long and we went from blizzard conditions to searing heat in the space of 12 hours. We all were missing our loved ones, but were determined to do the China Trek Challenge.
When we all saw the Wall for the first time, we were in awe and then the scale of what we had agreed to do began to hit home. This was Tŷ Hafan’s first fundraiser overseas, so none of us really knew what to expect. We went pretty much immediately on our first walk in very hot temperatures. This was a warm up walk! We had never seen so many steps in our lives! But the hard work was only just starting!
Well, that week was something else. We all made friends for life and the camaraderie was like nothing we had experienced before. We worked as a team, lifting each other’s spirits, comforting one another when there were tears, sharing our stories with one another of why we were there and remembering most of all that we were raising money for such a worthy cause. The children at the hospice were sending us video messages which were so touching and in turn we were sending back regular updates so they could track our progress.
The Wall was definitely a challenge and at times the heat and difficulty of the paths and steps left us exhausted. Three days in, I managed to twist my ankle and flare up an old injury, but I was determined to keep going for the families. We had never seen so many steps in our lives and in total we did 130,000 steps that week. Ankle strapped up, I carried on.
The Wall was such a life lesson. Take a step at a time, keep pressing on, keep your focus, remember why you are doing it, look at the bigger picture. The Wall has its highs and lows, narrow parts, sheer drops and fortresses. The depth of every step is different, which you only appreciate when you are there, there were false summits and paths that led nowhere. It was like a reflection on life and the journey that being a carer often takes. We often don’t know what is around the corner on any given day, but you live for today and grasp every moment you possibly can. Perseverance was the life lesson.
Having some of the care team with us, some of the parents who had received care from Tŷ Hafan and some of the office staff was very moving. They all had the same ethos and values. I think that says a lot about the core of Tŷ Hafan. It really is a caring charity and this shone through on every level.
When we got to rebuild a bit of the Wall and were given our Tŷ Hafan medals, there was not a dry eye in the group. What a massive achievement for all of us. The fact that we raised a whooping £75,000 is just amazing and a great team effort!
Our walking boots will carry the memories of an incredible experience, as will our many photos and the brilliant video on YouTube of our life-changing trip. Every time I put mine on I’m transported back to the Wall in my mind’s eye. It just goes to show that doing what you love can do amazing things in your life.
What started as a little walk has been a pivotal milestone in all of our lives. I hoped it would inspire my kids, which it did. I did not expect them to nominate me for a Local Hero Award, which I then went on to win. It’s very humbling. To be recognised for doing what I loved every minute of seems weird somehow, but I am deeply honoured. The experience has changed my life so much that I am now a Tŷ Hafan Ambassador and will help by representing the charity at many more events. What an honour to represent the children, the siblings and the parents. I feel like I’ve come home and want to help as much as I possibly can.
For any of you reading this, I would like to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and do things that make you happy.
Every life is short and we are here to make the most of it. Be the incredible person you are created to be, much love, Shell x