Story of helping hands in tough times shared for Compassionate Albany Charter launch

Headshot of Shannon Smith
Shannon SmithAlbany Advertiser
Email Shannon Smith
Heather Sanderson with the Albany Over 50s Cycling Club this month.
Camera IconHeather Sanderson with the Albany Over 50s Cycling Club this month.

Heather Sanderson knows too well the difference a caring community can make in tough times.

It is bittersweet to reflect on the difference the support of others made for her and her late husband Tony Speechleyduring his terminal illness.

Ms Sanderson has shared their story during the launch of the Compassionate Albany Charter to show people how they can help.

Before her husband died peacefully at his home in December, the couple became the subject of the charter’s promotional video, sharing how their lives had changed, and how friends and their cycle club had rallied behind them.

They wanted their experience to help others.

Mr Speechley fell ill with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at a time they were dividing their retirement between Ms Sanderson’s birthplace in the Yorkshire Dales and Mr Speechley’s birthplace in Australia.

The first signs of his illness were on a trip to the UK in 2017 when the couple noticed a decline in his cycling ability, which at the time they assumed was “ageing”.

Heather Sanderson and Tony Speechley cycling in France.
Camera IconHeather Sanderson and Tony Speechley cycling in France.

He received his diagnosis in early 2018 and underwent treatment until August 2018, when he was considered to be in complete remission. His lymphoma returned as a brain tumour later that year.

During his treatment he continued to ride his bike with the Albany Over 50s Cycling Club when he could to maintain some fitness.

“Our involvement with the cycling club led to our connection with Compassionate Communities,” Ms Sanderson said.

“Pam Dolley, a good friend of ours in the cycling club, was involved in various groups who were trying to ensure that sick and vulnerable people in our community were not left to fend for themselves at times of need.

“Pam set up the network of our cycling friends to make regular visits to Tony, enabling me to have time away from home for shopping, cycling and visits to the gym.

“Occasionally we had to cancel the visits if Tony was having a particularly bad day or we had an appointment. However, for almost as long as Tony could draw breath, he did not willingly cancel those visits from his friends — he got enormous pleasure from them.”

When Tony’s health started to decline the people supporting him felt comfortable because they had been part of the journey with him.

“Several members of the cycling club were with Tony right up to the time he died,” Ms Sanderson said.

“Members of the network have said that being part of the journey has made it easier to support me after Tony died. “It has also meant that I haven’t needed to reconnect with my networks after his death because they were largely maintained during his illness.”

Ms Sanderson said her late husband’s willingness to be involved in the Compassionate Albany Charter film showed his character.

Watch Heather and Tony’s video at bit.ly/3e0B47b.

Heather Sanderson and Tony Speechley, three months before Tony’s death.
Camera IconHeather Sanderson and Tony Speechley, three months before Tony’s death. Credit: Supplied Picture:

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails