Posted on Saturday 1 January 2022
“He genuinely saved my life.” Young Lives vs Cancer Social Worker awarded MBE in New Year Honours list for services to teenagers and young adults with cancer in Northern Ireland
A Young Lives vs Cancer Social Work Team Leader from Northern Ireland has today, on New Year’s Day, been awarded an MBE in the 2022 New Year Honours list for his services to teenagers and young adults with cancer in Northern Ireland.
Simon Darby, 36, from north Belfast, has been recognised for his vital work supporting families living with cancer. Simon has been working for Young Lives vs Cancer, the UK’s leading charity for children and young people with cancer, since 2011.
Simon said: “For me, the honour is reflected back to those young people and parents who have allowed me the privilege to be part of their cancer experience over the last 10 years.
“I wouldn’t be receiving this honour for my contribution to cancer services for young people in Northern Ireland had those families not said ‘yes’ to my support. I am part of a wider team within the hospitals and charity and very much am daily empowered by my nursing, medical and social care colleagues as we work together to deliver our service, so this honour is owed to them also.”
Simon, one of five boys growing up in Belfast, and civilly partnered to Gerard McGarry, said he knew early on he wanted to work with young adults and have a career in social work. His own experience of finding a lump in his testicle aged 19, during his university degree, has also helped him to empathise with young people facing cancer.
“Both my parents had been community workers when I was growing up and I could see the difference they had on our local community and this really shaped my decision to choose a career in social work. I wasn’t the smartest cookie at school and unfortunately just missed out on getting all the A Level grades to get into the social work degree. I did an A Level in Psychology and had an amazing teacher, so decided to do a psychology degree for 3 years at Ulster University.
“During my Psychology degree at the age of 19, I found a lump on my right testicle. Being away from home and also being a man, I stupidly ignored it but in hindsight can see how much this affected my mental and physical health. I eventually went to my University GP who used the word ‘cancer’ quite casually, but for me I went into panic mode. For the last 10 years I have had regular check-ups and ultrasounds.
“Although I had gone through all of that, it wasn’t a motivating factor to seek out a job supporting children and young people with cancer and their families. After a few years working I went back and did my social work degree at Queens University Belfast. It wasn’t until I seen the Young Person’s Social Worker post advertised with Young Lives vs Cancer and could see as a charity how much they had included young people in the charity that I felt it would be a good fit.”
Simon went on to further achieve a Masters in Social Work Research and continues to do more post qualifying training in specialist topics.
“The great thing about social work as a career is that you have to continue your professional development. You never stop learning and developing as a social worker, particularly in cancer services, because we need to move along with the advancements and changes in cancer treatments, the NHS as well as things like COVID-19, Brexit and much, much more.”
Amongst Simon’s many achievements is his setting up of MOVE Forward, a CrossFit based rehabilitation programme.
Simon said: “Five years ago I went back to University to complete a masters at Ulster University, focusing on exercise and young adults with cancer. I then started MOVE Forward, which has seen more than 50 young people improve their fitness, quality of life and fatigue over the last four years.
“The best part of this is seeing the young adults who have come through the programme thriving in their lives and becoming the coaches to deliver the programme. This year through the success of our MOVE Forward programme we are expanding into five new locations so we can reach more young people and their families through CrossFit.
“What sometimes people forget is that cancer doesn’t discriminate and I remember one young man arrived into Northern Ireland as a refugee with a cancer diagnosis, faced with fear of deportation, a health system that he didn’t understand, a city that was strange, new and scary.
“I supported him throughout his treatment and into his survivorship afterwards and on the day the court granted him the right to remain I was filled with so much joy and pride as I could see this young man contribute to society, better himself through taking classes in the local college and make choices that brought him joy. This was a proud moment in my career to have got him this far and look forward to seeing where he goes in the future.”
Two young people who have benefitted from Simon’s dedication and commitment as a Social Worker, are Mark and Jamie. Both were supported by Simon when they were diagnosed with cancer, and took part in the MOVE Forward Programme, which Simon set up to help young people living with cancer.
Simon supported Mark Adams when he was diagnosed with cancer aged 24 and helped him with the impact it had on his mental health: “I reached out to Simon and I don’t say this lightly – he genuinely saved my life. He was the first person I opened up to and told my truth and he got me the help I needed – like seeing a psychologist. I didn’t want to see one because of the stigma around it and he helped support me. And through the Move Forward programme too.
“I have the upmost respect for Simon, there’s nothing I could ever do to ever say thank you enough to him or repay him for what he has done for me – not even through donuts or coffee! The work he does is invaluable. I’m only one story, and there are hundreds more – he deserves a medal for all the work he has done. With the MOVE Forward programme, he started it all, working additional shifts in the gym. He doesn’t want any thanks for it, he’s just a good person and a brilliant guy.”
Jaime Nichols, who was also supported by Simon when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma aged 18, added: “Simon is a legend. The work Simon does goes under the radar and he honestly deserves an MBE. He hasn’t just supported me, but so many other people who have suffered from the same diagnosis or worse. He is always there for you and puts you first. The work he does is undeniably amazing.”
Simon’s colleague and friend Laura Rohdich, a Social Care Practitioner at Young Lives vs Cancer, said: “It’s not enough to say Simon is good at everything he does – because it doesn’t show the effort he puts into everything he does. Simon approaches each task in his professional life with 110 per cent creativity, passion, and effort.
“He repeatedly goes above and beyond and as a team we’re so lucky to have him driving forward improvements for teenagers and young adults with cancer in Northern Ireland. I have honestly never met anyone more deserving of this recognition and can’t underestimate what a privilege it is to work with him.”
When asked what inspired him and his work, Simon said: “I am privileged in my job to have been inspired by so many young people and parents I have supported. The inspiration comes by seeing the choices they make along a pathway in life where they have limited choices, powerful decisions to make and must impart trust onto others.
“It’s both the choice and outcome that inspires me as I get to see them thrive, take back control, or sometimes just do something for themselves for once.
“My husband, parents and family are over the moon with the news of my MBE. They see how passionately I work and how much I love my job so feel the MBE is well deserved.”
Rachel Kirby-Rider, CEO at Young Lives vs Cancer, said: “Simon is always striving to do everything he can to support young people from the moment they are diagnosed with cancer. Our social workers are at the heart of the vital support we give and we are so grateful for Simon’s commitment and passion at the charity.
“He is a huge asset to Young Lives vs Cancer and inspires us all. An MBE is an incredible honour and one that is so well deserved by Simon. Our many congratulations to Simon and his family.”
Notes to editors
For more information please contact Jessica Browne on 077 4119 5055 or email on email@example.com
About cancer in children and young people
Today, 12 more children and young people in the UK will hear the devastating news that they have cancer. Treatment normally starts immediately, is often given many miles from home and can last for up to three years. Although survival rates are over 80%, cancer remains the single largest cause of death from disease in children and young people in the UK.
About Young Lives vs Cancer
When a child is diagnosed with cancer life becomes full of fear, for them and their family. Fear of treatment, but also of families being torn apart, overwhelming money worries, of having nowhere to turn, no one to talk to.
Young Lives vs Cancer is the charity that helps children and young people (0-25) and their families find the strength to face whatever cancer throws at them. We’ve been there before. We’ll face it all, together. For more information, visit www.younglivesvscancer.org.uk
Note to sub editors
Always use our name in full: Young Lives vs Cancer and write it with only the Y, L and C capitalised. But don’t capitalise ‘vs’.
‘Young Lives vs Cancer’ should be not be abbreviated – it’s not “Young Lives” for short, nor “YLvC”.
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