Michelle, aged 37 from Horley, was recently referred to St Catherine’s Hospice after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Here, she shares her story and experience of hospice care, and talks of how it’s brought her family close together.
“I was diagnosed with bladder cancer in July 2017. Just five months later, I found out it was terminal. It all happened so quickly; I didn’t want to die.
When the hospice was first mentioned to me, I said ‘no’ and refused to think about going there. I was scared, and just thought that if I went to St Catherine’s, I wouldn’t leave again. But I still needed support from the hospice team, so they came to see me at home instead to begin with. My pain was awful, so the St Catherine’s community nurses would come to my house and help me with my pain management. I had no idea that nurses could come out into the community like this.
It didn’t take long though for my pain to become completely unmanageable. My family weren’t sleeping as I’d be crying out in the night, and it was causing so much stress and worry for my children. My 19-year old daughter had become one of my carers, and that was distressing for her, as well as for my 15 and 10 year old sons. They shouldn’t have to see their Mum like that in their own home.
It was my Mum that said, ‘enough is enough’, and insisted I come to St Catherine’s for more specialised, around the clock, care. I was terrified, but knew it was something I had to do for my family.
I’ve been so surprised by my experience at St Catherine’s; it’s nothing like I thought it would be. Every single person is so friendly, from the nurses and doctors right through to the cleaners and the receptionists, and the staff and volunteers in the coffee shop have been particularly amazing, going out of their way for me and my family. There is no one judging me here: when I was first diagnosed, I’d feel self conscious even taking the children to school, but now, I know that everyone at the hospice is going through similar experiences and that no one is judging me.
When I was at home, I couldn’t talk about the fact that I was dying. Every time any one mentioned death, I’d literally cover my ears and block it all out. Since coming to St Catherine’s, I’ve been able to talk more openly with my family about what’s going to happen, and have even made arrangements for my funeral and who will care for my three children. I couldn’t have done that had I stayed at home: the hospice has given me more confidence and made me feel more comfortable to face these things.
The biggest impact my stay here at St Catherine’s has had is on my family: it’s brought us closer together at a time that is so challenging for every single one of us. My children are so much more relaxed: at home, my 15-year old son couldn’t talk to me about what was happening, and would often shut himself away, but now he looks forward to coming to see me and is back to his old, cheeky self. My youngest has been so touched by the care I’ve received here that he’s signed up to the upcoming Brick Walk to raise money; I’m so proud of him.
My Mum believes that had I not come to the hospice when I did, I wouldn’t be here today, sharing my story. I was in such a bad place with it all, and I couldn’t face up to what was happening to me. With the support both medically and emotionally from St Catherine’s, I’ve been able to address my illness and think about the future. It’s honestly saved us.
My care is completely tailored to me; I have a laugh with the nurses and even get to have cuddles with the Therapy cat when he comes to visit! In a hospital, you’re just a patient; but in a hospice, you’re a person.”