Val’s Story

“I decided to live in the here and now

Since my diagnosis I take one day at a time. I still have a laugh and I try to get out as much as I can when I feel well. If I feel good and the sun is shining it’s good to be out and about.

I was diagnosed with terminal cancer in August 2018 and referred to St Catherine’s by my GP. I was in a lot of pain with my tumour and nobody was helping me to manage it.

My diagnosis has been life changing

I’ve got a colostomy bag now and bending down to pick things up, or to put my shoes on, is difficult. And when I had my first round of chemotherapy it made me feel awful. I was practically housebound. I can’t dye my hair anymore because of the chemo but I hoped it’d come through white. It has and now I put pink streaks through it. I had all my radiotherapy in a week to get it done and out of the way, and I’m currently taking chemo tablets, which I seem to feel better on. I take them for two weeks then have a week off and I’ve learnt to listen to my body. I don’t fight the chemo like I did before. Now, if I sit down and feel like I want to fall asleep I let myself sleep. Or if I want to spend the whole day watching TV I’ll do it.

My daughter is my rock

When I heard about St Catherine’s Hospice I wasn’t scared. But I’d never been to the hospice, and didn’t know what it did, so I didn’t know really what to expect. I was open minded about it, and decided to come and look around with my daughter, Tina. She used to work for a nursing agency so has worked with hospices before, and she does so much for me. She knows what I need before I do! She takes me out, and organises all my appointments and medication. We’re really close and she’s my rock.

St Catherine’s has helped me at home and at the hospice

St Catherine’s helped me get equipment at home, like a raised toilet seat and a handrail, and a nurse rings me after my appointments to see how I am. And when I came to the Living Well Centre at the hospice I was enamoured by it. I’ve never met such lovely people! I chatted to another lady and it was good to offload with people in the same situation as me. They understand and that makes life easier. Coming to the hospice helped me make my decision about where I’d like to be at the end of my life. And I’d like to come to St Catherine’s when the time comes.

The hospice has supported my daughter too. She came to see a counsellor here and got a lot from being able to offload and share how she was feeling. We get on with things as best we can though. My family have always done crazy things together and that’s not stopped because I’m ill.

There was one time, when I first got a passport, that we went over to France for lunch. And when I turned 70 in 2016 my family surprised me with a big white limo. My grandchildren jumped out of it and it whisked me off to The Grand Hotel in Brighton for afternoon tea. I’d always wondered if I could cope going on holiday on my own too, but I’ve done that a couple of times now as well.

I’m still determined to do as much as I can – My family even did an early Christmas on the beach

I’ve always wanted to go to Australia and have Christmas on the beach. The nearest I’ve got was when we went to Portugal in December 2017. I know I’ll never get to Australia now so I asked my family if we could do an early Christmas on the beach here instead.

So seven of us headed to Seaford in September! We had a BBQ on the beach, played Christmas music, wore Santa hats, and had a mini Christmas tree, with a pile of presents underneath as part of our Secret Santa.

I knew some people would probably give us weird looks, wondering what we were doing, so I decided to raise money for St Catherine’s. We took some collection pots and on the day people gave us donations.

Some people walking by shouted Merry Christmas and a few of them asked what we were doing. One man said ‘It was September when I woke up this morning. Now it seems to be December’, but it was good fun and it was a great memory for me and my family.

Tina’s got a free photo site on her phone and she makes me a photo book of all the special things we do. It’s nice to look back at the memories. I’ve got lots of silly, family pictures, in frames in my living room, from things we’ve done across the years.

I’m working through my bucket list

We’ve already booked our Christmas Day dinner, and I’m working through my bucket list. I’m going to pet the Meerkats at Tilgate Nature Centre, and I’m seeing a Bee Gees show at the Hawth in November. I want to do a helicopter ride too. And I’d love to adopt an elephant!

Making memories is really important, and if there’s anything you want to do, just do it! It doesn’t matter how silly it might sound, or what other people might think, just do it. Do things, get out and about, and make memories while you still can.”