Grace Dark was 15 years old when her mum, Carol, was first diagnosed with breast cancer. For seven years, Carol underwent various different treatments and operations before receiving the news in 2017 that she had brain metastasis, progressively getting worse until she was admitted to St Catherine’s Hospice for her final week of life. Here, Grace shares her family’s experience of our hospice and the incredible fundraising that she has undertaken in her mum’s memory ever since.
“In June 2017 mum went downhill very quickly. We spoke very little about the end, but the one thing that she had said to me was that she wanted to die in a hospital. We live right next to East Surrey Hospital, where I now work, and she thought that the hospice was too far away. She came out of the hospital at the weekend, but by the middle of the week she’d really deteriorated and one night, mum told me that she didn’t want to sleep as she was afraid that she might die.
I knew that this was it for her but I didn’t know who to call – I had this helpline and it was for St Catherine’s. I gave them a call and within an hour someone had come round to visit us.
One of the nurses arranged for mum to come to the hospice.
From that moment on, myself and my family felt a relief knowing mum was getting the best possible care. While she was there, she realised how much of a nicer place it was to spend her final few days than a hospital, and I don’t think people appreciate that.
In a hospital they just don’t have the same dedicated time and staff for end-of-life care – St Catherine’s found her anything she wanted to eat, made her pain free, let people visit as much as we wanted, and my dad stayed over every night that mum was there, and this meant so much to him.
It was things like that that made us feel more comfortable.
I don’t think people realise that the hospice isn’t just there for the patient either – they’re also there for the family. It was an awful situation to be in; my 55 year old mum was dying in front of me. We spent every hour of the day sitting by her side and not only did the staff check on mum but they also checked in on us.
The memories of the devoted care, compassion and support for both my mum and our family will stick with me forever.
They also offer counselling, financial advice and whatever else you need and though it’s not the time you want to think about these things, it’s nice to know that there are people you can turn to.
It’s a whole different environment and that’s why I’m fundraising for them, to make sure they can continue their amazing work.
I first started fundraising after my mum died. Run Reigate was coming up and though none of us were runners, my older brother and five of my friends decided to do it. On that occasion, we ran the 10k and I finished on such a high that I decided I would sign up for the half marathon the following year.
In addition to my runs, I also persuaded my radiographer colleagues to sign up for the Dragon Boat Festival one year and we all really enjoyed it.
Then normally, every December, we hold an annual charity trial (a type of sport my family is part of) for St Catherine’s Hospice. We do it in mum’s memory as she was a secretary for them, and the sport was actually how my mum and dad met.
Signing up for the London Marathon was slightly different.
A group of my friends decided to enter the ballot together, but I was the only one who managed to get in. I then asked my friend Harriet to join through St Catherine’s; we’d done some fundraising events together before mum had died.
To prepare, I’ve been following a 16 week plan and have been trying to vary my runs – I do both long and short distances and try to go to different places. A lot of it is a mental game; when you’re running for hours on your own it can be quite tedious.
I think it will help being amongst all the other runners, the adrenaline and cheering on the day will get me round.
I’ll probably be more nervous on the day, but at the moment I’m really excited.
I know mum would be supportive – she was always supportive.
To anyone that is considering doing fundraising, I would say ‘just don’t doubt yourself’. I’ve been doubting myself the whole way along, but I recently drove past the church where we held mum’s funeral and I read my tribute, and I realised that that was the hardest thing I’d ever done, so 26.2 miles is nothing really.”