It was such a fabulous feeling that we’d finished!
Retired science teacher, Di Brennan, took part in the Jurassic Coast Challenge for St Catherine’s in memory of her husband Eamonn. Wet weather, tough climbs and over 26 miles made it a trek Di will never forget:
Eamonn and I were married in 1979 and together for 40 years in total. We went through a lot together. During his life he needed two kidney transplants; two hip replacements due to the side effects of immunosuppressive drugs; two sessions of dialysis and a few sessions of radiotherapy , so together we’d seen a lot of hospitals.
When he was 50, cancers started to appear on his skin and over the following years they became gradually worse. And to make things even worse he developed tongue cancer too. I retired from teaching early and I was able to dedicate my time to looking after him.
When Eamonn’s condition became terminal, we were referred to St Catherine’s community team. They were at the end of the phone whenever I needed them. I could call St Catherine’s any time and they would listen and advise me.
We had an apartment on the South Coast that we visited regularly but I would feel rather worried being so far away from St Catherines. I’d call the hospice and they would relieve my anxiety and advise me. I felt I had the support to help Eamonn and towards the end of his illness I was calling every day.
Without St Catherine’s we would have had to rely so much more on our GP. GPs are great and the district nurses were fabulous, but they’re not specialists like the hospice and couldn’t advise me on how to stop Eamonn’s pain.
Eamonn was often in a lot of pain. He was so brave, but it was very hard to watch. It became increasingly difficult to see a doctor when I needed one and I became very anxious as I didn’t know how to help him. I would call St Catherines every day, sometimes twice a day.
When St Catherine’s found him a bed in the hospice I was so relieved, and although Eamonn didn’t want to come into the Hospice, his medication was altered straight away and his progress was monitored carefully. The next morning when I arrived he said: “I’m in no pain, no pain!” It was fabulous to see as he was so pleased with himself, and St Catherine’s, of course.
That evening, despite feeding through a peg, he so wanted to taste the soup, but even the small amount he had he couldn’t swallow properly and it went straight down to his lungs. The next day he died, but he died without pain and having enjoyed the soup. He was calm and passed peacefully and I am forever grateful to the nurses and doctors at St Catherines who made that so.
All my friends and family were so supportive. I love walking and they used to come and take me out, and while I was getting over everything my friends and I did the Sussex Landmarks walk for St Catherine’s. We did that two years running – my friends did it to support me and to remember Eamonn, whom they had known and loved.
When I spotted the Jurassic Coast Trek being advertised, I decided to do it as the route was very near where Eamonn and I had our apartment near Poole. It’s a part of the world I know well, and my friend Judy signed up to do it with me and another friend, Tessa, became our support crew along with Dylan, my Border Collie.
Judy and I had been along to two of the St Catherine’s training walks and we were often the last ones to get up some of the hills! The training sessions helped develop friendships with the other members of the group and there was such a great camaraderie because we had all shared the same experience of having a loved one who had died after being cared for by the hospice.
When I set out on the trek, I wasn’t sure I could do it. Although I’ve walked a lot, it was hard! On the first day the rain poured and we were soaked. The ground was so muddy and the hills were so slippery – it felt quite treacherous. By the end of the first day our boots were squelching! It was dogged determination that kept us all walking.
I did wonder if I would be able to complete the second day. My feet were sore from the day before, but that morning we were told we were finishing on Studland South Beach – known in the family as ‘Eamonn’s Beach’ as it is where we scattered Eamonn’s ashes. I told the group of trekkers this and became very choked, but everyone was so encouraging, I couldn’t not continue after that.
I was resolved to walk as far as I could on the second day and the group were so supportive of each other. We were helping each other up the hills, holding each other’s hands coming down the hills, and the photos from the trip are testament to the amazing support we shared. Mostly everyone laughing and joking.
Cat and Emma leading the group from St Catherine’s were brilliant – they were walking up and down talking to the group the whole time, listening to everyone’s stories. They were such good fun and they kept us going – they were a great team.
When we finally reached ‘Eamonn’s Beach’ it was very emotional. More than a few tears were shed, but there was a wonderful sense of achievement. As we walked down onto the beach, we took our boots off and went into the sea. It was such a fabulous feeling that we’d finished – I have a wonderful photo of Judy and I in the sea with Dylan the dog who along with Tessa met us there at Eammon’s beach.
Other than looking after Eamonn, the Jurassic Coast was the hardest challenge I have ever had in my life, and together with friends and family I raised over £500 for St Catherine’s.
Taking part was a way for me to keep hold of Eamonn’s memory, which I won’t ever lose. Although my life has moved on, it was my way of saying thank you to him for all the good times we had over 40 years together. I was doing it for him, really! But also for me!