June’s story

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"My sister Brenda was such a vibrant woman. She owned two shoe shops in Buckhurst Hill and Wanstead and she’d always be jetting off to Milan to get the next season’s shoes. She always looked beautiful and was very fashionable and full of life."
Brother and two sisters hugging and laughing

“She was able to have targeted treatment instead of chemotherapy when she was first diagnosed with bone and lung cancer. She took a pill every day which blocked the cancer and it worked for two years. But then she started getting problems with her hands and legs on her left side, and she had a few falls. A scan in January 2014 confirmed the worst that the cancer had spread to her brain, and even though she didn’t want to know the result, I asked the doctor to tell me because I needed to know what was ahead.”

“Brenda began steroid treatment and had radiotherapy for a week. I remember phoning her to see how she was like I did every day and her saying, ‘I’m OK, I’m in the shop but I’m as bald as a coot. All my hair fell out this morning’. She’d covered her head with a scarf, tying it like a turban and insisting it looked quite trendy. That’s how Brenda was; she just got on with it.”

“But by May her condition started deteriorating quite quickly and she had to use a walking stick. She was fiercely independent and still going into work, but I was worried about her. By the following month it had got to the stage where she couldn’t go into work any more, and then one Sunday morning I had a call asking me to go round because she’d fallen on the landing and had been lying there for two hours because she couldn’t get up. Up until that point she’d been saying to everyone that she was fine and ‘I’m ace, I’m ace’, that was her saying, but that’s when I got in touch with St Clare because I was scared for her.”

“One of the Specialist Palliative Care Nurses from the Hospice starting coming round but still Brenda wouldn’t let anyone help. The trouble was the brain cancer was clouding her judgement. But she started to go from bad to worse and after calling St Clare’s 24-hour advice line, the GP was sent out and at that point the Hospice at Home team were able to get involved. Brenda was in excruciating pain when the Hospice at Home girls arrived so arrangements were made for her to be transferred to the Inpatient Unit.”

“As soon as we got her settled into her lovely room she immediately started to relax. For so long I couldn’t be Brenda’s sister – I had to be everything, her cook, her chauffeur, look after the dog and visit her husband Peter. But when St Clare got involved, anything she wanted, they did for her. If she wanted her breakfast during the night, they gave her breakfast in the night. They controlled her symptoms, which calmed her, and her appetite came back. She was a different girl because she was so relaxed.”

“Brenda stayed at the Hospice for three weeks and then they arranged care for her when she went back home. When the Hospice at Home girls came to see her, she would say, ‘Here comes my A-team’. We got to know them so well and she’d have a proper laugh with them.”

“But then she started to go downhill again and was transferred back to the Hospice. She was so relieved to be back. I remember going into the kitchen to make a cup of tea while they were getting her settled and it felt like being at home. She was there another week before she died the following Sunday morning but she was so happy to be there. Towards the end, my brother and his wife came over, my husband, Brenda’s son, and my niece and the nurses made up beds for us all so we could stay with her. And after Brenda died, we stayed for eight hours until we felt ready to leave her. We were never rushed.”

“Before she passed away, Brenda had said to me, ‘We’ve got to do something to help, June. Look at the gardens out there and the children playing outside and the rabbits’. She was just so at home. Together, we decided I would do a sponsored slim as it would give me something to focus on after she’d gone and then when I saw in the St Clare newsletter they were opening a new shop in Loughton I decided to become a volunteer as I was beginning to miss her really badly. To go from being with Brenda every day for two years, to not at all is really hard. So now I help at the shop every Monday and I tell everyone I meet not to be afraid of hospice care. It’s about supporting you as a family and making the time you have left as nice as possible. They would come round and give Brenda massages with lovely oils and one time then even gave me a massage.”

“If I had to sum up what St Clare meant to us all, I’d say the Hospice was our everything. They were our safety net. They caught us when we were falling and made it possible for me and Brenda to be sisters again, and to laugh despite everything.”

– June

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