Stuart’s story

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"The environment at St Clare’s was amazing. Everyone there cares so much for the whole family, as well as the patient."
“Until two years ago, I had hardly heard of St Clare Hospice. Then in a very short space of time my family and I had a lot to do with St Clare, when first my mother in law, Therese, and then my wife, Hannah, were cared for by the Hospice.”

“Hannah was diagnosed with a brain tumour in early 2015 – all rather out of the blue. She was perfectly healthy, as far as we knew, until one day when she had a strange episode whilst driving her car and she became disorientated and was involved in a minor collision. Hannah didn’t really know where she was, which was very strange and out of character for her, because she was a very sensible person and wasn’t prone to acting like that. The initial reaction from the doctor was that she had probably had a panic attack. But again, that didn’t really ring true for us.”

“As a precaution, they did a scan. That was when Hannah was diagnosed with a brain tumour.”

“They arranged for Hannah to have an operation very quickly to remove the tumour, in May 2015, which was successful and very good news. But when they did a biopsy of the tumour, it revealed that it was the most aggressive type of brain tumour and from that point on we knew that it could reoccur at any time. In fact, I think the life expectancy for that type of tumour is six months from diagnosis.”

“But Hannah went onto chemotherapy and radiotherapy and had all of that successfully and to a large extent got back to a normal life with me and our daughters, Nancy and Clara. Although we always had the worry of the tumour returning hanging over her.”

“In 2015, after Hannah’s operation, she started a new job retraining as a primary school teacher. Hannah had previously worked in the City, and that is where we had met, but she had been made redundant shortly before she was diagnosed.”

“But instead of ‘giving up’ because she had cancer, Hannah decided to train to become a primary school teacher and give something special back to society – which shows the amazing type of woman she was.”

“Hannah even signed up and had a place to run the London Marathon for a brain tumour charity, and amazingly she completed it on Sunday 22nd April 2018. Despite how ill she was, and everything that was going on, she ran the 26 mile race to raise funds for charity.”

 

 

 

 


Hannah’s mum, Therese, needs St Clare

“We were pretty much back to ‘normal’ by 2018 and Hannah was working as a teacher at the primary school in North Weald, not far from the Hospice. It was in the summer of 2018 when Hannah’s mum, Therese, who had been living with cancer for a number of years, became very unwell. Therese’s cancer, which had been fairly isolated, began to spread very quickly.”

“Hannah wanted to look after her mum at home. So, despite being aware of St Clare and the many services, she felt it was her responsibility as a daughter to look after her on her own. For the first few weeks Therese was at the house and Hannah managed to look after her on her own, with visits from the District Nurses.”

“It then reached a point where Hannah couldn’t look after her mum alone any more, and the District Nurse suggested it was time that they sought support from St Clare.”

“Therese was admitted to St Clare’s Inpatient Unit and Hannah immediately said that it was the best thing that could have happened, and she wished that we had done it earlier. Therese was more comfortable at the Hospice than at home, there were nurses on hand all the time, and they had such experience in caring for people.”

“The environment at St Clare’s was amazing. Everyone there cares so much for the whole family, as well as the patient. It was a huge relief for Hannah to know that her mum was getting looked after so well, and that she wasn’t bearing everything on her own shoulders any more.”

“No one ever wants to ever end up in a Hospice, but if you are in a position that you are in pain and cannot be cared for at home, it can be the best place. Hannah’s mum, Therese, died at St Clare Hospice on 5th August 2018.”

“Seeing how well her mum was cared for, Hannah became convinced that if her own condition deteriorated, then she too would like to be cared for at the Hospice.”

Hannah’s illness returns

“After Hannah’s mum passed away, we went on a family holiday to Menorca. We had a really nice time with the girls, despite everything. But within two weeks of returning from holiday, Hannah started having strange episodes again – and we knew immediately that it was the brain tumour again.”

“We took Hannah to A&E and after some tests and scans they confirmed that the brain tumour was back. This was at the start of September 2018, less than a month after Hannah’s mum had passed away.”

“Hannah had surgery again in October to remove the tumour. This time it was much deeper in the brain and so a more difficult operation. Hannah was fully awake throughout and they asked her questions constantly whilst operating to make sure that they got as much of the tumour as possible without damaging any of her critical functions. Even the thought of that operation would have finished me off – but Hannah was so brave, and she just got on with it.”

“The operation was very successful and Hannah recovered quickly and then started a course of chemotherapy which lasted into the start of 2019. Hannah ended up in and out of hospital quite a lot as the chemotherapy weakened her immune system and so she kept picking up viruses and bugs which made her feel very unwell. On a number of occasions we had to call an ambulance and take her to A&E and she would be treated for an infection and then be ok again after a few days.”

“This became very frequent throughout the spring, and we were in an ambulance more times than I can recall. Even though it was a horrible thing for Hannah to go through, every time it did seem to be just an infection rather than the tumour itself. So we were always pleased that the tumour was being kept under control by the chemotherapy.”

“Then, one day in March, it was strange but Hannah woke up feeling a lot better than she had in months! She decided to join me on the school run, which she hadn’t done in a long time, and got herself showered and dressed. But then she felt she had over done it and decided to stay home. When I arrived back half an hour later she was in absolute agony with pains in her head. I called an ambulance and we went to Harlow hospital and they determined that Hannah needed to go to the specialist brain hospital in London. So she was transferred there immediately and it became very clear this time that it was the tumour.”

“Hannah’s tumour was one that you normally can only operate on once, but because she was young and otherwise healthy, they had managed two operations. But when it came back for the third time, it was clear that they couldn’t operate and there was nothing more they could do.”

St Clare steps in to help

“Hannah started to deteriorate mentally and physically, and we made the decision to try and get her into St Clare’s as quickly as we could.  Hannah had made it clear that she wanted to be in the Hospice should it come to it, so we were determined to fulfil her wishes.”

“When we came to St Clare’s Inpatient Unit with Hannah, all of the wonderful care that we had known for her mum was still there. It really made life as easy as it could be, under the ridiculously difficult circumstances we were in.”

“Everything the nurses do is so caring and so exceptionally thought out – it just makes that horrible part of life as comfortable as it can be. They have a special bath that you can be lowered in to and Hannah had a bath a couple of time, and in some tiny way that made her feel still human. It just wouldn’t have been the same in a hospital.”

“I don’t quite know how to express how much of a relief and a weight off our minds it was, to have St Clare’s.”

“Whilst Hannah was on the Inpatient Unit we had a lot of family visit, and her cousins stayed with her overnight whilst I was at home with our daughters. Hannah was never on her own, not for a single minute. It’s just the best that we could hope for, under those circumstances. I dread to think what it would have been like if the Hospice hadn’t been there for us, and if Hannah had remained in a hospital in London where it is hard for family to visit, and she could have ended up being on her own. It certainly wouldn’t have been as comfortable as St Clare’s, or had the same level of outstanding care.”

“Hannah passed away on 22nd April 2019, which was coincidentally a year to the day that she had run the London Marathon. Hannah was just 42 years old, and our daughters Clara and Nancy were 6 years and 8 years old.”

Support for our family

“Before Hannah died she had spoken to the Children, Young People and Family therapist at St Clare – about the girls, and about her own mum. Hannah had counselling with the Hospice when her own mum died.”

“After Hannah died I met the family therapist as well, as I was convinced that the girls would need someone to talk to, and we spoke a lot about how children might react and what signs for me to look for. But the kids have been so brave, they have just been incredibly strong. Despite all the tears, as you would expect, they seemed to be ok and so the girls didn’t end up doing counselling.”

“We have been to the Family Days at the Hospice – they are good fun and give families with a similar experience the chance to get together and support one another.”

“I can’t help thinking that it might actually be as the girls get older, and start to turn from children into young women, that they will really miss their mum. So it may be that counselling is something they will need more when they are older, rather than in the immediate aftermath. It really is just a terrible personal tragedy – especially for the children.”

“We have been back to the Hospice a few times since Hannah passed away. My company has chosen St Clare’s as their charity of the year, and so we are fundraising for the Hospice throughout 2020 and beyond. During the coronavirus lockdown we did a charity fundraiser with the girls and their friends, and then we came up to the Hospice to put the money they had raised in the donation box.”

“We will certainly always remember the Hospice, and will never forget what they have done for our family. We really couldn’t be more grateful for St Clare’s support for Hannah, and her mum, and our whole family. They helped us through one of the most difficult times of our lives, and we are so thankful for their care.”

– Stuart


Light up a Life 2020

“Last year was our first Christmas without Hannah and her mum. I found it very difficult and couldn’t help but notice that a big part of our family was missing.”

“Every year, St Clare holds their Light up a Life services to give families like ours a special opportunity to remember those they love that our no longer with us. Candles are lit as we remember, with every shining light representing the life and memories of a loved one.”

“On behalf of my family and St Clare Hospice, we hope to see you at one of this year’s Light up a Life services and thank you for any donation that you can give today.”

Find out more about Light up a Life

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