“The hospice was a lifesaver and helped to give everyone closure.”
Sheila Francis’s husband Neil was cared for at home by St Catherine’s in the final few weeks of his life.
Sheila was so touched by the support Neil and her family received, she took part in the Midnight Walk last year. Now she’s preparing to walk 26.2 miles in our Jurassic Coast Challenge with a group of friends in memory of Neil and to fundraise once again for the hospice.
“Neil and I were together for 40 years. He was a true gentleman, he was kind to everybody and everyone loved him.
“Neil died in August 2021. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer five and a half years previously and he’d had all the drugs and chemo. But then it spread to his bones and in May the cancer had spread to his spine, which caused spinal cord compression and affected his mobility. As a farmer he was very active and had been playing tennis regularly up until May. From May to August he gradually went downhill.
“A few weeks before Neil died he was rushed to hospital with a clot on his lungs. We didn’t know if he would make it through the night, so I had to call our three children and tell them to come and say goodbye. He did survive the night but because of COVID, the children were not allowed back into hospital to visit their father, and I was only permitted a couple of times a week. Neil hated being in hospital, he wanted to be at home.
“Our friends, Ian and Julie, rang round for us to see if we could find us help to care for Neil at home, so that he could leave hospital. They rang St Catherine’s and thankfully they were able to come in twice a day.
“Neil was home for just over two weeks before he died. It was such a big deal for us when St Catherine’s were able to help because otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to get him home. It is a massive support to have your loved one at home.
“Neil was so popular, so as soon as we got him home, he had a stream of people coming to visit him. He had so many friends and they all came to say their goodbyes. His sense of humour was there to the end. All those people had the chance to see him, thanks to St Catherine’s – that wouldn’t have been possible if he had stayed in the hospital. The hospice was a lifesaver and helped to give everyone closure.
“The nurses were so professional and kind in the way they looked after Neil, and supporting me also, with so much warmth.
“When Neil’s breathing changed, the nurses told us that he was entering his final stage. Everyone rushed down to the house and all the family was there around his bed when he died.
“Over 300 people attended Neil’s funeral on our farm. We had a marquee that friends had decorated nicely and Neil’s choir ‘Encore’ came to sing. He was so well known in the farming community that they came from far and wide to be there. We raised over £5,500 at the funeral for St Catherine’s, Prostrate Cancer and Macmillan.
“A large group of our friends and family decided to take part in the Midnight Walk last year to raise money for St Catherine’s and to say thank you for its support.
“We called ourselves ‘Neil’s Babes’. We were very impressed at how well organised it was. It was emotional lighting a candle to remember Neil and the reception after we’d finished was amazing – we didn’t expect all of that, we had planned to come back to ours for bacon and egg!
“My son is getting married on 10 June this year, the same day as the Midnight Walk, so we decided to sign up for the Jurassic Coast Challenge in July instead! We have a big team of us taking part. We signed up because our friend saw it first and fancied doing it and then it snowballed, and we all decided to take part! We are mainly all friends from West Chiltington Tennis Club, where Neil used to be Chairman.
“I feel fine about the walk – I haven’t got myself too stressed about it yet! Walking on the flat should be fine, but it’s the going up and down the hills that might be a challenge, but we’re all fit and used to walking on the Downs.
“Neil’s Babes signed up, so we could try and raise more money for St Catherine’s, to help others in the future, from this amazing charity. The scenery will be stunning, and it will be lovely meeting the other walkers, and creating friendships. The organisation for the Jurassic Coast Challenge has been excellent and I’m hoping to attend one of the training walks.
“Without St Catherine’s support, those remaining last couple of weeks of Neil’s life, would have been such a struggle, but now we have treasured memories of that time spent with him at home.”