VIDEO: Disease is horrendous and heart-breaking but Brenda is there to give support, as she has been for 23 years
Helping people with an incurable illness keeps Brenda Bowman extremely busy. She is the longest-serving volunteer for the Motor Neurone Disease Association in Derbyshire. Wendy Roberts reports.
BRENDA Bowman has tried to wind down her duties at a Derbyshire charity but she cannot – she cares too much.
The 68-year-old has been volunteering for 23 years and her list of jobs is endless.
She is the treasurer of the Derbyshire branch of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, attends clinics and monthly member meetings and visits people and their families affected by the neurological condition.
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"Motor neurone disease is such a devastating condition," said Brenda, of Chaddesden. "It's just a rapid disease and there's no cure.
"It's horrendous. It attacks the nerves that control movement so people can still think and feel, but their muscles refuse to work. People become trapped in their own bodies. It's just awful."
Brenda got involved with the national branch after her friend's uncle was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in the 1980s. A few years later she joined the newly-formed Derbyshire association.
"My friend, Elaine, and her sister set up the local branch," she said. "They did a wonderful job and, when a request went out for more members, I decided to help.
"Not long after that, I joined the committee and became the treasurer. Since then our work has steadily grown. We're not an enormous branch but we certainly work very hard to support people with motor neurone disease in Derbyshire.
"We raise quite a lot of money too."
Brenda is Derbyshire's longest serving volunteer. Since she joined, she has given thousands of hours to the branch.
She cares deeply about people with the disease and her heart goes out to families touched by the devastating diagnosis.
"I never thought I'd get so involved," she said.
"I've tried to take a step back but there's never anyone to take over my role.
"I feel like I can't just walk away so I carry on. All the people involved with the Derbyshire branch work so hard to make a difference and I feel just as passionate."
Over the years, Brenda has befriended several people with motor neurone disease and regularly visited them at home.
She received specialist training from the national branch but believes a listening ear and a caring nature is all you need.
She said it breaks her heart when she meets people who are battling the condition but she never fails to give up her time to help someone who needs her.
"It's truly heart-breaking," said Brenda, beating her fist on his chest.
"It's just so sad. The families are distraught and they don't know where to turn.
"They feel helpless and lost. They don't know how to access services and that's where the Derbyshire group really comes into its own.
"I offer to visit and give them as much information as I can. I'm just the signpost."
But that is not entirely true. Brenda is so much more than a signpost – she is a friend and a great support, truly dedicated to the cause.
"Some of the people I've befriended want to know everything I know about motor neurone," she said.
"They want to learn about the disease and find out how it is going to affect them. On the other hand, some people want me to visit but make me promise never to talk about the condition.
"I do whatever I'm told. I just want to help those affected by motor neurone."
Brenda said it could he hard befriending people with the condition. Their life expectancy is short and, just as she starts to build a trusting relationship, their life comes to a very sad end.
But Brenda carries on. And, when needed again, she never fails to make friends with someone else.
Last year, the Derbyshire branch raised £23,500 to support local people with motor neurone disease.
From the fund, the regional group can give financial support to sufferers and their families.
Over the years, it has bought specialist pieces of equipment for people, such as chairs and toilets.
It has also paid bills for people in serious financial trouble.
"Some people who are diagnosed with motor neurone disease have to give up their jobs relatively quickly," she said.
"And, if they are the main earners, they can soon find themselves in a cash crisis.
"Once, we paid for someone to have their coal fire replaced with a gas fire because they were too unwell to keep making the fire and clearing out the ashes.
"We try to help as much as we can. It's so sad when a family is left in crisis because the main earner has developed motor neurone.
"They find themselves unable to work and this can have a devastating effect on a household."
Brenda became treasurer of the Derbyshire branch in 1992 and pledged her services for three years.
When it was time for her to stand down so someone else could be elected, nobody was available to take on the job.
She said: "I hated the thought of just leaving, so I was re-elected. I've been doing it ever since."
The Derbyshire branch organises a monthly meeting for members and is in the process of setting up another social group, which will meet during the day.
Volunteers attend monthly clinics at the Royal Derby Hospital to offer support to people who are newly diagnosed as well as highlighting the work of the local branch.
"It's impossible to know how many people in this area are affected by motor neurone disease," said Brenda.
"We get to hear of new people all the time. We try to make contact and tell them about the branch. We want them to know that we're here if they need us."