“My grandma was first diagnosed with lung cancer when I was 15. She had an operation to remove the cancer early on and she got the all clear. When she went for her fifth annual check up she was told that the cancer had returned. She died later that year, when I was 21.
Grandma never wanted to inconvenience us, so she decided to tell us very casually one day when we were all at our house that the cancer had come back. We couldn’t believe it. Then later at my cousin’s wedding, she told us all that the cancer was terminal. We were absolutely devastated.
I remember the first time grandma got cancer, after her first operation to remove part of her lungs, grandad came to our house in tears. I’ve never seen him cry before. He was in the navy and so the two of them have travelled everywhere together during their lifetime. He never questioned looking after her; it was second nature to him. But it was clear that her illness was really difficult for him. This time, as grandma got more and more ill, Grandad became her main carer. I never saw grandad cry, but we did see him getting more and more exhausted each day. Although we did all we could to help him, caring for grandma around the clock was a lot of work for him. In her final months, she wasn’t sleeping and he felt like he had to stay up with her too. Neither of them would tell us the extent of what was happening.
We’re quite a jokey family, so we’d come and visit grandma and grandad would make his excuses and head upstairs for a nap. We would say, “Fancy you having an afternoon nap!” not realising that he wasn’t getting any sleep at night. They never asked for any extra help at home, but I know that it would have really helped.
When we found out the cancer had come back, grandma was consulted by Dr Anne-Marie Carey from the Hospice. They also helped my grandparents with practical and financial matters. They helped grandma to apply for her disabled badge. Although she was determined she didn’t want it, eventually she did need to use it. The Hospice also looked at what benefits they were entitled to. My grandparents were not struggling for money, but when grandma became ill, she had to have the heating turned up all the time and so that quickly ate up a lot of money they had saved.
When grandad first told us that grandma had been taken into the ward at Ashgate, we were really worried that she had gone downhill quickly. We thought that once she went into the Hospice, she wouldn’t be coming out again. However, as soon as we came to visit her here, we quickly realised that was not the case. They got her pain medication under control and then she came home. It was actually a relief to know that she was being looked after so well in the Hospice and that it wasn’t all on my grandad to care for her. Having already had family looked after by the Hospice, we all knew that she was receiving the best care possible.
Grandma was home for about a month until we had one horrendous weekend. She was in excruciating pain one evening and grandad didn’t know what to do. He decided to phone the Hospice as he knew my grandma didn’t want to go into hospital. Dr Carey was working on the ward at the time and so she was able to speak to grandad on the phone. Fortunately, there was a bed available and so Dr Carey told us to bring her in straight away.
Again, they got her pain under control. We came to visit grandma everyday and we saw how truly outstanding the care was that she was receiving and how excellent all the staff were. Nothing was too much. If she slept through her evening meal,we were asked to let the nurses know if she wakes up so they can bring it to her. It was quite a while after they had stopped serving dinner, and grandma had woken up feeling a bit hungry, so one of us went to a nurse on the ward to ask if she could have a little snack or something just to fill her. The nurse came in and asked her what she wanted to eat and grandma said soup, not wanting to inconvenience them. But the nurse saw through this and said, “Susan, tell me what you really want to eat! If soup is all you want then that’s fine, but otherwise let me know what you really fancy eating and we’ll make it for you.” Hearing things like that made me realise just how wonderful and caring all the staff are and how they will go out of their way to make sure every patient is properly looked after.
On Sundays, we used to take grandma from the Hospice to her favourite restaurant for Sunday lunch. They would give us her medicine and her wheelchair and say off you go! We’d also have picnics with her in the Hospice gardens. Grandma’s room had a patio which was lovely when we brought the dogs round. Those moments were really important to my grandma; to have that little bit of normality that she missed.
The best thing about her being in here was that we didn’t have to stick to any visiting times and there wasn’t a limit on the numbers of visitors that could be with her, so we were able to come in as a family and spend quality time together. When somebody has limited time, the last thing you want to do when you’re with them is clock-watch. When you come in to visit a patient here, the staff give you chairs and tell you to make yourself at home, to help yourself to drinks and so on, so the Hospice really does become a place where you’re always welcome. Then if you need anything, the staff are always around to help you.
We thought that grandma would be able to go home again, so the Hospice made all the arrangements and made sure she had all the equipment she needed at home. My grandma was a fighter, and so she was insistent on trying radiotherapy, as this was her only option. By this time, she was very weak and being taken up to Sheffield everyday really took its toll on her.
On the day she was due to go home, I looked at my phone at work and I had missed call after missed call. I spoke to my dad on the phone and I could hear his voice wobbling. My dad is not one for showing emotions, so I knew it was bad news. I left work as quickly as I could and drove to the Hospice, I was in such a panic thinking that I would not have time to say goodbye to my grandma.
I arrived at the Hospice and I told them I was here to see my grandma. One of the doctors who had been looking after her was there, and she didn’t let me go straight in. I really value that. She explained everything to me and spoke to me like a person. She said that my grandma was very ill and that when the staff spoke to her that morning she was doing well, but within an hour she had taken a turn for the worse, so my grandad and the rest of the family were called. At that point, we all knew what was going to happen.
There were six of us in her room, we just sat there chatting to each other. Looking at grandma, it was like she was an empty envelope and the important part, the letter, had already gone. We sat and talked about grandma and grandad’s travels. When we got hungry we went to get fish and chips. We were saying how annoyed grandma would be that we were tucking into her favourite meal right in front of her when she couldn’t have any for herself. We knew what was happening but we stayed with her and we felt like we could still have a laugh and make jokes. We didn’t feel hopeless or like we had to sit there silently. I left the Hospice that evening at about 8pm.
My mum, dad and grandad decided to stay the night and so the Hospice provided them with pop up beds to sleep on. She died that evening just after midnight. It was really hard for us, but we were all relieved that she was no longer in pain. The one thing my grandma wanted was to die with dignity, because her dad didn’t and it had always stuck with her. But she did die with dignity and all the staff at Ashgate made sure of this. They were amazing.
When you’re the bubble of being a visitor, coming to the Hospice each day to visit a patient, you don’t get to see everything else that goes on at the Hospice. Nobody sees how much work all the staff and volunteers do, both here and out in the community. My grandma loved going out in the garden, but we never stopped to think about what an amazing job the gardeners do, most of whom are volunteers. You don’t get to see all the fundraising that goes on to keep the Hospice going. When you step back and think about it, there is an amazing team of people behind the Hospice doing all sorts of things. For me and my family, it’s truly life-changing what the Hospice has given us. It was like we were getting specialised, private care for free. We’re so lucky to have Ashgate Hospicecare in this area and we should all continue to support the Hospice so that we can keep offering this kind of care in our community for years to come.”