International Women’s Day – Profiling SIG’s Women – Tricia’s Story

Continuing with our IWD profile series. This is Tricia’s story…

When I sat down to speak with Tricia, I did not know that the interview would leave me humbled, emotional, thankful, filled with admiration, and most of all inspired! Tricia epitomises; perseverance, grit, determination, authenticity and most of all strength. This is her story.

Tricia

Synergy Service manager, Patricia Medford is a beloved colleague and friend, a mother of 3 and grandmother of 5. Tricia as she is known, is a strong independent woman who has always had to fight for everything in life. “School wasn’t my best time, but I always knew there was something out there that was my passion. It just took me longer than others to find what it was. I’ve always had to fight for everything, nothing has ever been handed to me.” Tricia said.

Tricia’s current role was a light bulb moment for her. She had experienced a lot of domestic violence when she was younger and moved away from Luton with her children to make a fresh start. It took several years before she left that violent relationship and with her children, first moved to a refuge in Bedford then to Southend for a year. Tricia credits a conversation she had with a ‘church lady’ who picked them up in Southend, with showing her that her experiences could be used to help others. “I knew I had to give something back! She had given me and my children our lives back, so I knew I wanted to do that, to give back.” Tricia added.

Career

After a year or so in Southend, Tricia returned to Luton a different person. She found herself and was strong and independent. She was now a single parent so started courses at the Luton Learning center as well as doing English and Math. She then applied for voluntary work, which led to a job at the job center and learning center, supporting 16-to-25-year-olds to get back into education and employment. Tricia then moved on to several different roles including working as a Priority, Prolific Offender officer (PPO). Within that role, she worked alongside Probation and the Police dealing with predominantly housing and other support needs. This led to a job as a Housing Officer working with vulnerable people with complex needs. Because she’d had doors closed in her face as a youth, she knew what it was like on the other side and was determined to make a difference.

Then Penrose won the tender for the entire support services in Luton, so, Tricia was TUPE’d over and became a Penrose Employee, starting as a support worker. She loved it! She loved the interaction with clients and was a Gypsy Roman Traveler (GTR) specialist for a few years. Alongside this, she had a caseload of general complex vulnerabilities; all within sustaining and maintaining tenancies, early interventions, and prevention.

Tricia then successfully applied for the manager position and has been in this role for over 5 years, going from strength to strength. So, her career was great, but unfortunately, her health started to deteriorate. It started with a bad leg, which was attributed to sciatica. Then seemingly from nowhere, Tricia was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the end of December 2019.

The big C & SIG support

When she was diagnosed with cancer, it shook Tricia’s whole life. She had never really been ill before but went to the doctor to figure out a way to stop taking painkillers for her leg pain. The Dr. examined her and told her that she had cancer. She didn’t believe him. That weekend she went to a Reggae festival in Manchester and didn’t tell anyone about it. Then on Monday 2nd December, (a date she’ll never forget) she attended the hospital referral appointment. It wasn’t until she walked down that corridor and saw the Mc Millan sign, that it really hit. She was checked, then taken into a room and gently told, (whilst having her hand stroked), her diagnosis – stage 4 bowel cancer! It was like a massive bombshell. Tricia had to be strong for her family and try to reassure them, telling them she was going to be OK. Although she didn’t know if she was going to be.

Once she told her children, Tricia’s first thought was, “I’m a single parent, I have a mortgage, how am I going to work through this? Am I going to be that person that through illness ends up homeless?”

Tricia contacted Gill Arukpe, SIG’s group CEO directly and that phone call did much to put her mind at ease. She said, “I have got to say, Gill was fantastic! Although it’s a bit unprofessional to say, I felt like I was talking to a mother figure. I haven’t had a mother figure in my life for a very long time and haven’t got a big family so to offload to another woman was just what I needed. Telling my kids, I felt like I was putting it on them but telling Gill was different.” Gill reassured Tricia and told her that whatever SIG could do for her as an organization they would. Gill told her that she had shown her worth to the organization and that they would look at her performance and length of service and decide how best to support her and what package she would receive. The package offered gave her the security she needed, which meant not worrying about how she would manage through her treatment. Tricia was in hospital initially for approximately 3 weeks for major surgery. Whilst there, the company sent her flowers, Gill, Victoria, Emmeline and her deputies constantly texted to check if everything was going OK, and she also had check ins from other colleagues. Tricia said: “I can speak about it now without getting too emotional as the support was really great. This organisation really has been a part of my journey and a safe haven. Being at home was a sad place and I spent a lot of time in my bedroom crying. So, being able to pop into the office whenever I could was really helpful. I have been so lucky and can’t thank SIG enough.”

Tricia never really left her job and throughout her treatment (surgery then 5 weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy), she continued to work when she could. “To be honest with you, if I didn’t have work, I don’t think I would even be here. This is my escape. This is my happy place. This is my family. This is where I can come, pick up the phone and call someone and just be me. The organization is a bit of a comfort blanket for me to be honest.” she said. Tricia worked throughout her treatment in 2020 until she had major surgery.

Tricia got the all-clear in Nov 2020, the same time that her beloved older brother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. So, they could not celebrate her all clear. Tricia felt that she couldn’t support her brother to his appointments at the time of his initial diagnosis as she was still receiving chemotherapy. However, she arranged with friends who were available to support him, as she knew he would try to protect her from the seriousness of his illness. Her brother gradually deteriorated, and she was faced with the heartbreaking decision of whether he would go to a hospice or home with her. This was one of the easiest but hardest decisions of her life and she took him home and nursed him until he passed away in her house in March 2021. For Tricia, burying her brother was in some ways worse than having cancer. It had just been the two of them for a long time. Her brother was like a dad to her as he helped to raise her, taking her to school etc. He was the dominant male figure in her children’s lives, so his loss has been devastating to their little family.

Two weeks after her brother died, Tricia was told that she had secondary cancer in her lungs!

Once again, she spoke to Gill who told her not to worry. Gill told her, “…we’ll work through it as a team, and as an organisation. Just get in touch if you need to.” So, now, Tricia is once again having chemotherapy and awaiting other treatment, although there is no guarantee. She has chemo every other Monday then goes into the office. She sometimes has bad headaches or is sick but still tries to show up. So, she takes her laptop and works through emails and other light duties at the chemo center, which keeps her focused and not thinking too much. She just keeps moving forward. Everytime, she has been in hospital it was reassuring to know she had her SIG Penrose family behind her. Her deputy managers have visited in hospital, and asked for advice and discussed work, giving her a chance to be involved, as they know how passionate she is about the work.

One day at a time

Tricia is taking each day as it comes, trying to find her feet again. Her house has been such a sad place that she spends a lot of time at work. She has now put it on the market and just wants to get rid of the lung cancer and move forward. She oversees the hub and manages many of the services with her team of deputy managers. She credits them, Norah, Maureen and Alicia, with keeping the services going. She would now like to work towards an area manager position or in a position where she gets services ready for audit, something she is good at. “I know that I make a difference to people’s life,” Tricia said, “…and I will do that until the day that I feel like I haven’t got it in me anymore. I’ve got to stay positive! I have an army behind me.”

Just before Christmas 2021, Tricia received the news that the cancer on the right lung had become aggressive, so she needed to be treated soon as possible. She went into hospital 2 days before Christmas for the Radiofrequency Ablation. She has a scan mid-February to see if the treatment had worked, and it has. She will now be eligible to be wait listed for treatment to her left lung. Tricia is no longer having chemo for the first time in 2 years and is hoping that her health continues to improve.

Through it all, Tricia has felt blessed. Blessed that she still has a roof over her head. Blessed that she still has her job. Blessed that she has her family. Blessed that she saw her last grandchild be born and blessed to be working for such a great organization.

Tricia, we are so very grateful that you are a part of the SIG family! So thankful for the sterling effort you have given and continue to give to our organization. You are an inspiration!

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