This year our Light up a Life campaign featured the heart-felt story by Howard Callow who spoke of his personal experience of our Hospice at Home team and the care they provided to his late wife, Mary.
Our annual Light up a Life campaign, which launched with a remembrance service on Sunday 1 December, enables people to remember and celebrate the loved ones who lit up our lives but are no longer here with us during this special season. By dedicating a light on our Christmas tree, it is a poignant and symbolic way to commemorate and celebrate the life of someone we hold dear.
As an introduction during a situation of great stress, this was perfect. And as an introduction to the Hospice At Home team it perfectly summarised what they do: a warm arm around the shoulder with the personal touch. I and my family will never forget what the Team meant to us during a few weeks in June 2019: the worst weeks of our lives.
My wife Mary was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in October 2013 which was pretty devastating at the time. What followed was surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and then more chemotherapy. Our lives during these following years seemed to be dominated by hospital appointments, scans, treatments and always waiting for the next set of results. But it was not all gloom and doom. We continued with our daily lives, doing the things we enjoyed, going on holidays and refusing to let this ‘thing’ rule our lives.
However, as time passed, Mary’s condition gradually worsened. Each new chemotherapy treatment seemed to bring less respite than the previous one. And then in early June we were told that the latest scan showed that the cancer had spread and that there was no further treatment available. This was a bombshell, as while there was treatment there was always hope. Now we were told that the prognosis was a matter of weeks rather than months. It was finally the time to discuss matters that no one ever wants to have to talk about. We had had contact with Hospice through Mary’s Lymphoedema treatments and so were aware that help was available either as an in-patient or through Hospice at Home. After talking it through we decided that staying at home was our preference and so we made the call to Hospice.
Having made that initial call, things moved very quickly. We had a visit the next day and it was explained to us what the Team would do for us. Working with the Community Nurses we would be called on morning, afternoon and evening as required to administer whatever medication was needed and to generally monitor Mary’s situation. Looking back even just a few months, the events of the following two weeks are rather a blur. The attention Mary received was unbelievable and nothing was ever too much trouble. The answer to any problem was only ever a phone call away. And the attention of the Team was not just on Mary but they kept a close watch on how I was dealing with everything too. Despite the stress of the situation we quickly became friends with the many members of the Team and we were comforted in the knowledge that someone was always available to us. Remarkably, it was not all sadness and gloom and I recall many occasions of banter and laughter. I particularly remember the time when Barbara was unable to open her secure medicine box as the lock was faulty. I jokingly offered the use of a large hammer which was roundly rejected until after 30 minutes of futile key fiddling, my offer was accepted. Sorry Hospice. I must still owe you a new box!
Inevitably, Mary passed away less than 3 weeks after we were told that no further treatments were possible; but during that time she felt secure and comfortable in the knowledge that ‘our’ Team from Hospice at Home would be there to ensure that she would always be cared for as an individual and with dignity. It is such a special service which is provided and they have to be such special people to do what they do, every day, with such humanity and compassion. I cannot thank them enough and I hope these words convey some small essence of what Hospice At Home means – a hug and an arm around the shoulder. In the midst of the worst times and with all the specialist drugs doing their best, the focus on the patient as a special individual means so much.
Hospice At Home Team: may you long continue to deliver your very special service to people in need of a hug!