Tony’s story

"It was a weight off my shoulders and a sense of relief, more than anything, that Collette was in a place where she was able to get the care she needed. St Clare’s made the world of difference to us."

“Collette and I met when we were at school, and we were together for 27 years in total. Collette was 4ft 10, so she was only a little woman – but you wouldn’t want to mess with her! Our teenage children, Lainnie and Daniel, towered over her but they were still her babies. Collette had a wicked sense of humour, which she kept right up until the end, and she was so brave.”

“Collette was a home care manager at St Elizabeth’s residential home for adults with epilepsy and learning difficulties, near Bishop’s Stortford. It takes a special type of person to be a carer – and Collette absolutely loved her job, and the young adults she worked with. I was so proud of her.”

“It was towards the end of 2019 that Collette started having back pains and she found herself going back and forth to the doctors – but at first they couldn’t find what was wrong.”

“In early February Collette had a CT scan and we discovered that she had a tumour in her abdomen and something suspicious in her womb. By the end of the month Collette had taken a turn for the worse and she ended up in hospital in Harlow as the pain was too much for her to handle. Collette had been at work right up until that day – she had just persevered and worked through the pain and carried on – she was just absolutely amazing.”

“After two weeks in hospital Collette was starting to have problems with her kidneys and liver, so she was moved to the Royal Free Hospital in London where they could do the procedures she needed.”

“They did more tests and discovered Collette’s tumour had grown so rapidly in just a few weeks – that was when we were told that it was a very aggressive type of cancer and it had spread everywhere.”

“When the consultant came down to tell us the news, there was a big team of doctors with her. I remember thinking it must be good news, because there were so many of them, and that they were going to operate. As it turns out, they were all there to give us bad news. Collette’s cancer was untreatable. I could see the look of horror in their eyes when they told us.”

“Right up until the day we were told the cancer was terminal, we still had hope that Collette would have an operation and treatment, and that she would be ok. It was just a complete blow.”

“Collette was so brave when we got the news. She only got upset once, just for ten minutes, after she was told the cancer was untreatable.”

“The day after we were told that Collette needed palliative care, I knew that we needed to get her out of the hospital. The covid pandemic was worsening, and the lockdown was about to start. I was terrified that if Collette was in a hospital during lockdown then we wouldn’t be able to visit her, and I just didn’t want her to be on her own.”

Care at the Hospice

“Collette’s cousin, Emma, is a children’s nurse, and she got straight on the phone to St Clare Hospice. Within three hours they managed to get Collette moved to St Clare’s Inpatient Unit – it was very quick, and we felt very lucky that they had a room for us.”

“Honestly, to be told that Collette needed to go to a hospice was scary. But once we arrived at St Clare, and we were all there with her, it was a huge weight off my shoulders.”

“To get her to the Hospice was a relief for Collette, and definitely a relief for us and the whole family. It meant that we could all visit her – although there were restrictions in place because of covid – but everybody could see her.”

“From the very first night that Collette was at St Clare I stayed overnight with her, until the day she died. She was there for ten nights in total. We had so much support from her cousin Emma, and she stayed with us a lot of those nights too. So there was always someone with Collette, and that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want her to be left on her own at all.”

“We arrived at St Clare just as the coronavirus lockdown was starting and things were changing.”

“We couldn’t leave her room, or use the lounge or visitor kitchen, so everything had to be done by someone else – the staff were great and would bring us food and drinks, and whatever we needed. But I’m not used to having things done for me, I am used to doing things on my own, so that was strange. We were separated off from everyone in Collette’s room, and that is where I stayed with her for ten straight days.”

“Covid made it harder for the nurses as well. St Clare’s is an environment where you need to be close to people, but because of the outbreak they had to keep their distance. It must have been so difficult for the nurses to go from being close and sitting with people, to keeping a safe distance.”

“For me, there wasn’t one stand out moment of our time at St Clare – it was the whole experience which was so calming.”

“Everybody was just so generous and kind. I kept on telling the staff whilst we were there, that the job they are doing is fantastic. To do a job like caring in a hospice, you have to be a special person. You couldn’t do that job otherwise.”

“The nurses were great, if I had a question the nurses and doctors would answer it with complete honesty – which is what I needed. I had never been in a situation like this before, so getting the truth was important because as things progressed I wanted to know what to expect.”

“The nursing assistants always treated Collette with such respect. Even when she could no longer speak, we knew she could still hear us, and they would always make a point of talking to Collette, which was lovely.”

“It was a weight off my shoulders and a sense of relief, more than anything, that Collette was in a place where she was able to get the care she needed. St Clare’s made the world of difference to us.”

“If Collette had been through this in a hospital, even not during covid, it wouldn’t have been like it was. We would have been on a ward with other people, perhaps going through the same thing, and we wouldn’t have had the closeness or the privacy. In a hospital you would have been out in the open, and exposed. St Clare’s was definitely the right environment to be in.”

“St Clare Hospice could not have made the situation any better – it was the best it could possibly be, and Collette died in the best place possible.”

Collette died on 4th April 2020 at the age of just 42 years old. From Collette’s first diagnosis of cancer to her death was less than nine weeks in total.


Support for the whole family

“This was something that we never expected to happen to us – you just don’t ever think about losing your partner like this. It is the kind of thing you see happening to other people, but you think it will never happen to you.”

“Collette’s funeral took place during the covid lockdown, so we were very restricted on the number of people who could come. In the end we had fourteen people, all socially distanced in the crematorium. It was very strange and hard not to have more of our family and friends there. Collette has a big Irish family, and with her friends from work, we probably would have had a couple of hundred people there easily – it would have been full to the brim, and out the door.”

“But I am already planning how we can have a big gathering to celebrate Collette after the lockdown has lifted. We may have to wait until Collette’s birthday, next February, but as soon as we can it is definitely going to happen.”

“After the funeral my daughter and I decided to set up an online fundraising page for St Clare Hospice. Within the first couple of hours we had over £1,000 donated – that really blew our socks off!”

“In the end we had over £4,000 to transfer to St Clare. It was a real tribute to Collette, as well as an acknowledgement and thank you to St Clare for the work that they do.”

“I am finding it really lonely and hard to grieve, especially because of lockdown. People are there on the end of the phone, or sending me messages, but there has been no closeness. It is slightly better now that we can meet up with people outside, and meeting face to face with friends and family is a help. But at the beginning when Collette first died, it was very quiet and very lonely. No one I know has lost their partner, so it’s hard for people to relate to what is happening to me.”

“It still feels very raw. Life goes on, everyone has got their own lives, and their bills to pay, so they move on. I think that is the hardest bit – that life carries on.”

“St Clare’s Patient & Family Support team have been in touch with me, and I will be starting bereavement counselling with them soon. It felt right that I have counselling from St Clare because they know Collette, and they know what we have been through, so it makes it that little bit easier.”

“The kids have done fantastically well through all of this. They have had to grow up very quickly, and do things on their own, which has been a wakeup call for them. I was in hospital with Collette for five weeks in total, so I wasn’t around to help them. Collette and I really did spoil them before, so they have had to adjust quickly.”

“I am just grateful that when we needed them most, St Clare was there for us. Everyone who is local to St Clare knows the name, and knows someone that has been cared for by them – but you never expect to need them yourself. St Clare couldn’t have cared for Collette more perfectly, and I will always be thankful for that.”

– Tony

Be a Friend for Life

“Your regular gift could help St Clare support more people like Collette and our family – with their specialist care, and ongoing support for families experiencing grief. Sadly, there are still people in our local communities who are experiencing these devastating situations without St Clare’s help – but with your regular donations, they could reach even more people and make sure no one has to go through this journey alone.”

“Being a Friend for Life is simple to set up and easy to manage – yet will make such a huge difference to so many families.”

“Anything you can afford to commit each month will help St Clare to care for more local people, today, tomorrow and into the future. If you would like to be a Friend for Life, click here“.

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