Retiring Sue Ryder Nurse reflects on almost three decades of caring for people at home

Categories: Opinion and People & Places.

A Sue Ryder Nurse is sharing her thanks with families she has cared for and colleagues she has worked with as she hangs up her nurse’s uniform following 28 years of dedicated service caring for people in local communities across Leeds.

Lesley Cowlam, age 55 from Wetherby worked as a Community Nurse Specialist at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice and retired earlier this month after starting with the charity in a community nursing role in 1994.

Following her retirement, Lesley shares how special it has been working for the charity, but says there is one thing that has made her time there extra special.

“It is the patients I have met along the way which have really made my time at Sue Ryder. I can close my eyes and think of some of them now and it is them that I will always remember. 

“Being with patients has without a doubt been the most rewarding part of my job as well as being with the many colleagues I have worked alongside over the years. I have been at Sue Ryder for so long I have worked with so many different people.”

And while Lesley has been there for countless patients and families, she says Sue Ryder and her colleagues have been there for her too.

“Sue Ryder has been so supportive throughout the whole time I have worked there, especially following my MS diagnosis. They have always been so encouraging and supported me through ill health, helping with the practical elements so I could carry on with my job – arranging for me to park nearby or arranging for voice activated computers.

“It is not easy to continue working through a chronic condition, but I don’t shy away from having MS as it is something I have to live with. Being at Sue Ryder for the length of time I have people have been very understanding.

“I like to say Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice knows how to work with me and I know how to work with them!”

Giving care in the community has been a huge passion for Lesley, who has also held roles as a district nurse and worked at a cancer hospital after coming from Grimsby to study nursing at Leeds.

 “When you are in someone’s home you see the family pictures on the wall. You immediately see they are an uncle, a father or a son and all the many different things that person is in their life. For me that has always been the draw of working in the community.”

During her time working in the community, Lesley says she has seen a number of different changes and developments in her role as a Community Nurse Specialist, such as Nurse Prescribing.

“I know someone doing the same job as me in the future will be doing things very differently to how I have done it. Nursing through different eras you can see how people work to a different skill set now to what I had when I first started.”

“When I first started at Sue Ryder there were three of us working in the community and now there are 13. The team has grown and grown as the complexities of the patients we care for have increased. There are so many different treatment options now and there are so many different roles Community Nurse Specialists now perform.

“In days gone by people didn’t have some of the treatments we have now and some treatments are offered further on into someone’s diagnosis. I feel the area where palliative care crosses over with active treatment is more fluid now.”

“We have received a lot of training in different disciplines – counselling, communication and specific disease process training. It has been so good to receive this particularly as diseases now are more complex.”

As she retires, Lesley is keen to give a glimpse into what it is like to work in palliative care.

“I just wish people realised that it is not all doom and gloom and there should be no fear factor about palliative care. I have seen the fear people have when they first answer the door to me. They think ‘Am I that bad to need a palliative nurse to come to see me?’ but they really needn’t be frightened. We are a help tool, encouraging them to achieve the things they want to do at the end of their life. We can offer such supportive nursing at this time.”

“Palliative care is not an unhappy area to work in. I have met so many people and families I would not usually meet, and I would not have had any of the conversations I have had over the years if it were not for this job. You meet many other families that are offering you different conversations and insights into their lives and you learn so much. I have always felt really humbled by that.

Lesley has a special message she would like to share with everyone who has touched her working life during her long career.

“I have worked with and met so many people over the years I would like to thank. They have all made me think I could do this job for quite some time – I just didn’t think it would be quite this length time!

“But the biggest influence for me has to be the first people I worked with on the team at Sue Ryder. These are the people I based my role on and these are the people who introduced me to the work. They set the benchmark for what my job was all about and I am still in touch with them even now.

“My family have supported me through the whole of my career in palliative care too and I am so grateful to them. My children have grown up with palliative care as part of their world and they are not scared to talk about death or things that are painful and I am proud of them for that.

“Working in palliative care for this length of time you do need support – from your colleagues, friends, family and managers. They have all played a part – even my little dog!”

“This job has made me stronger and broader and has changed my thought processes in life.”

Looking back on her career as she retires, Lesley says she would not change a thing.

“I think back to that one day when I was a student working alongside a District Nurse in Leeds and I knew then that this is absolutely something I wanted to do and I have done it. Looking back on my career I can safely say it was the right area for me to be in.

“I have never had a single regret about working in palliative care. It has not always been easy, but I have really enjoyed it. I absolutely would not have done anything differently.”

Lesley says she has learned an awful lot from her three decades caring for people with palliative care needs, and she takes this learning and many memories with her.

“As I said to people when I had my retirement do – for all the families and team members I have worked with over the years, thank you. You get a lot of support, insight and ability to be able to carry on as long as I have and I have learned a lot from everyone I have come into contact with – every single family.

“I remember the times I trudged through the snow to get to someone’s house or we had to climb through windows when someone couldn’t get to the door – but I think some tales are best left to community nurses! And that is the nature of working in the community. You see the raw end of life and everyone has their own way of living and it has been incredible to see. I won’t forget that.”

Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice provides expert and compassionate palliative care and bereavement support to people living in Leeds. To be referred, speak to your GP, specialist nurse or lead healthcare professional who can refer you.

For more information visit


Pictured: Lesley Cowlam has retired after almost three decades of caring for people at home in Leeds for the charity Sue Ryder

For more information: Please contact Hayley Clemmens, Senior Regional PR Manager and 07773 039984.

About Sue Ryder:

Sue Ryder supports people through the most difficult times of their lives. Whether that’s a terminal illness, the loss of a loved one or a neurological condition – we’re there when it matters.

For over 65 years our doctors, nurses and carers have given people the compassion and expert care they need to help them live the best life they possibly can. We take the time to understand what’s important to people and give them choice and control over their care. For some this may mean specialist care in one of our centres, whilst others might need support in their own home.

Find out more by visiting or following us on Twitter @Sue_Ryder


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