I knew of St Luke's Hospice before my late wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer because I was working there as a volunteer. I combined two roles - initially I was one of the many drivers who bring patients in for day care treatments and then take them home. Then, shortly afterwards I asked to be trained in Bereavement Support. My training had been completed and I had been seeing people who had experienced a bereavement for some time, before my own wife was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.
Then our family’s world was turned upside down overnight as we struggled to cope with this devastating news. Eileen began chemotherapy very soon after the diagnosis and, for a long time, life seemed to be little more than a constant round of hospital appointments.
Initially she made good progress and her tumour shrank significantly. This gave us all a glimmer of hope despite knowing in our hearts what the inevitable outcome would be. Later the tumour grew back to more than its original size and the prognosis was as bleak as ever. I had to give up my voluntary work at St Luke's when I became her carer.
When Eileen suffered a stroke she was visited by one of the MacMillan nurses based at St. Luke's and that was when I had my first insight into the very special nature of the work that goes on there. The professionalism and compassion shown by this nurse was truly humbling and she quickly established a bond with Eileen. Subsequently Eileen went to St Luke's for some alternative therapy treatments and it was clear that she immediately felt welcomed and was able to relax there.
Sadly it was not long after this that Eileen's condition deteriorated very rapidly and we learned that the cancer had spread to her brain. Within just a few short weeks she was admitted to hospital as an emergency because she had collapsed at home.
When, on that first day I was asked if I would like a referral to be made for her to be admitted to St Luke's I had no hesitation in agreeing. I could think of no better place for her to spend her remaining days, for I instinctively knew that the time she had left with us was probably days rather than weeks.
It was a tremendous relief when Eileen was offered a place at the hospice, just 4 days after she was admitted to hospital. I knew that the level of care she then needed was far beyond my capabilities and that the environment there was better than any hospital could provide.
Prior to this point I had no experience of the work of the In Patient Unit and it was a revelation. It is hard to convey in words the warmth and care that Eileen received. The nurses checked frequently on her to ensure that her pain relief was being properly managed but at the same time allowed us to spend the last days and hours with her without us feeling we were being intruded upon. It was clear how completely dedicated they were to ensuring that Eileen was able to spend her remaining time as comfortably as possible. She was treated with the utmost tenderness and respect.
I remember well Eileen's first lucid moment when she woke up in her own room at St Luke's. She looked out of the glazed doors at the garden and the dappled sunlight pouring in through them. She smiled and said: "This is beautiful" before drifting off to sleep again.
In an ideal world every terminally ill patient would have the option of the standard of care St Luke's provides.