Jayne’s journey as a Young Carer

Published: 10th May 2018

A fascinating insight into the world of a young carer from South Shields. Jayne Plummer was just seven when she became a carer for her mother. Now, aged 19, she gives an open and honest account of her life and how the Young Carers team has become her second family.

I could never describe or make anyone truly understand what Young Carers has done for me. The support is life-changing. The team is my second family and without it I wouldn’t have had a life outside of being a young carer.

I don’t have many memories from before I was a young carer. I know there was a time when my mam was well and my family was like any other but I became a young carer at the age of 7 and that’s all I’ve ever known.

I first realised mam was unwell when she stopped walking me to the bus stop every day for school. I had to get 2 buses by myself.

It took 3 years for mam to get a diagnosis. We went to endless hospital appointments and they did countless tests yet nothing showed up. During this time mam was getting worse, her pain which had started in her feet quickly spread to both legs and hands and she was now in a wheelchair. She tried to hide her pain from me but I could tell she was really suffering.

Then, one day, we went to see a new consultant and he diagnosed her with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). We’d never heard of it before but it had turned our lives upside down and it was only going to get worse.

Most cases of CRPS are caused after an injury but this wasn’t the case for my mam. It’s typically confined to one limb but again, for mam, this hasn’t been the case.

Growing up, mam always wanted me to have as ‘normal’ a childhood as possible but it became increasingly difficult as she became more dependent on me as her CRPS progressed. About four years in to her illness, mum had gone to one of her hospital appointments and it was there that a nurse told her about Young Carers. A member of the team, June, came out to assess me and mam and a week later I went to my first group.

I was so scared walking through the doors that first night! I didn’t know what to expect and clung to June, from the Young Carers team, as she was the only face I recognised. She introduced me to everyone and I soon made friendships that I still have to this day. It became my weekly break where I could meet with other young carers who knew what I was going through.

Mam kept on getting more poorly and relied on me for most things. By the time I was 12 I was getting up at 5.30am, walking the dogs, making both our breakfasts and lunch, getting mam and myself ready for the day, hoovering, giving mam her medicine and making sure she had everything next to her that she needed for when I was at school. All of this was before 7am when I had to leave to get the bus to school. I’d get back at 4pm, feed the dogs, make tea and then clean before dinner. After dinner I had to do the dishes and walk the dogs before trying to fit in any homework. Then it was time for mam to have more medication and a coffee before bed at 10pm and back up at 5.30am.

During this time the Young Carers team truly was my lifeline. I didn’t have any friends at school as I kept myself to myself because I couldn’t go to any parties or do anything after school or at weekends. Knowing that every Wednesday I would get 2 hours to relax with other children my age who understood what I was going through was such a relief. Those 2 hours were my time and I could choose what I wanted to do out of the activities at the club – board games, arts and crafts, movies, pool and sometimes we even went bowling!

I became a full-time carer at the age of 14 and had to take time off school whenever mam had a hospital appointment. Mam tried to get help from local services but because she could go to the toilet, we didn’t qualify for support.

Young Carers made sure that through all of this I still got a chance to experience new and exciting things. Over the years it has taken me to Flamingo Land, London and when I was 16 to France for a week where I got to see the Eiffel tower.

I wanted to give back to Young Carers for everything it has done for me over the years so, when I turned 16, I became a volunteer, something I still do to this day. I’m also a Young Carers Champion and have been to Parliament to campaign for support for young carers. Having been one myself it is something I will always be passionate about.

When I was 15 mam had a major operation to put a Ten’s box in her back to block the pain signals  and it worked amazingly but it was only a three month trial and devastatingly they took it out. We were put on a waiting list to get a new one and finally, after three months, mam had the box put back in and we had 3 good years where the pain was much more manageable and she could do a lot more by herself.

Unfortunately, she developed a superbug in her back and had to have her box taken out, so I’m back to being a full-time carer whilst we wait for the infection to clear and the box put back in. It’s brought back all the old memories from when I was a young carer and how much I used to rely on the Young Carers meetings to get a break and a chance to have some fun!

I’ll never forget what  the team has done for me and whilst I don’t have as much time to myself these days, whenever I get the chance, I always come to the Young Carers office to have a chat with my second family – I couldn’t be without them. They’re one of a kind and deserve far more recognition than they get for the amount of work they do.

To any young carers who are reading this, I know what you’re going through and if I can give you one piece of advice it would be to sign up to Young Carers. Without it, I wouldn’t have so many fun memories from my childhood or the on-going support that I, and my mam, still receive.