When Donna’s dad, Terry, was first diagnosed with incurable cancer, he was worried about using the services of Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice. He thought a hospice was only for “old people” and assumed he wouldn’t meet like-minded people there.  

Here, Donna tells us how her dad’s preconceptions about hospices got completely overturned and how he came to make some great friends during his time at Day Hospice. Read on to discover how the Hospice helped Terry to live his life to the full…

My dad was absolutely adamant that he would never go to a hospice. He was 56-years-old and didn’t see it as a place for him. So it was a real surprise when, after he finally made a visit to Birmingham St Mary’s Day Hospice, he came back and said how much he couldn’t wait to go again the following week.

Dad would end up spending his final two years using the services of Birmingham St Mary’s and I still can’t believe the difference it made to him. He made new friends, created some wonderful memories and even got to be a part of Olympic history! But the biggest difference was that he was able to focus less on his illness and more on living the life he had left to the full.

So what can I tell you about my dad? He was a wonderfully intelligent man, a devoted father and grandfather, a huge Aston Villa fan, and had a cracking sense of humour – he loved nothing more than winding me, my younger sister and brother up! He enjoyed being outdoors and spent most of his working life as a market gardener, pulling fruit and vegetables out of the land. But my dad was also a very private man. He enjoyed being at home and would often keep himself to himself, which is why he didn’t want to go to the Hospice at first.

My dad was ill for quite some time and had spent a few years in-and-out of hospital. It was an upsetting and confusing time for our family because he had so many different and complicated illnesses, such as diabetes, cirrhosis, and bleeding of the oesophagus. But my dad was a stubborn man and after following doctor’s orders, he always seemed to get better.

So when he turned up at my house that one time before Christmas, I knew something was different. And that’s when he blurted it out – he had cancer and there was no cure. I was devastated but I also felt lost because there were so many unanswered questions – ‘how long’, ‘what happens next’ and ‘why dad’?    

Dad really enjoyed being at home and so we had a District Nurse visit him regularly. It was the nurse who brought along a leaflet for Birmingham St Mary’s and suggested he got in touch. But he refused, thinking it would just be “full of old people” who he would have nothing in common with. It took a couple of weeks for my sister and I to persuade him but eventually, he decided to give it a go and we’re so glad he did.

At first, my dad just used the Day Hospice service, visiting the Hospice once a week for support. The nurses, physiotherapists and volunteers were, in a word, amazing – they treated him like an absolute king! And of course, it wasn’t just “full of old people” – there were lots of different people there from all backgrounds, many of whom he became really good friends with.  

Dad would get to enjoy hand massages, reflexology and reiki treatments at Day Hospice which did wonders for his state of mind. But he also got up to some weird and wonderful activities, things that not in a million years would I have thought dad would do. There was the time he made me and my sister a beautiful candle during an art therapy session, the hilarious tale of when he learned to play the didgeridoo, or the day he got to meet some strange but lovely animals. Just thinking back to when he told us these stories still makes me laugh! 

One of dad’s happiest memories at the Hospice has to be when he got to hold the Olympic Torch. It was passing through Birmingham ahead of the games in 2012 and it travelled through Birmingham St Mary’s. He was so proud of that moment – I don’t think he stopped smiling for days.

As well as the Day Hospice, dad would sometimes spend a couple of weeks on the Hospice’s Inpatient Unit. He really enjoyed spending time there – in fact, he used to describe it as “going on his jollys”! I think he liked it so much because he knew he was in good hands and was being well looked after – it made him feel safe and comfortable. It was the little things that made all the difference, like the cook who would make him his favourite pudding when that’s all he fancied eating.

I think the biggest difference that the Hospice made to dad was that, despite him having a life-limiting illness, the doctors and nurses really encouraged him to just live his life. Yes, they were great in helping him to manage any pain he might be having but the focus never seemed to be solely on his illness, it was about enjoying himself and doing the things he loved.

And the Hospice didn’t just benefit dad either, it helped the whole family. When someone you love is diagnosed with a life-limiting illness you can’t help but worry constantly. I’d be worrying about whether he was in any pain, whether he was having a good or bad day, or worrying if he was just generally ok at home alone. When he was at the Hospice though, I knew that he was in a safe space, which gave me and our family peace of mind. 

When my dad passed away in August 2012, I was heartbroken but I will always be comforted to know that he spent those final years enjoying life. Of course there were bad days but I really do think that without the care and support of Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, he wouldn’t have had such a good quality of life.

It was because of that amazing care and support that made our family want to give back to the Hospice. Ever since 2012, we’ve done lots of fundraising – whether it’s encouraging our work to get involved, taking part in bucket collections or hosting our own events such as ‘Veganuary’.

One of my favourite fundraising events that we’ve done as a family is the ‘Enchanted Midsummer Walk’. It was incredible to see so many people come together for a similar reason. There were times when the walk was quite emotional – especially when you come to the Hospice and light a candle – but for the most part it’s a celebration of the life someone was able to have because of the care of Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice.  

Thank you Donna for sharing your story with us. If you would like to find out more about the different services we offer, such as our Day Hospice or Inpatient Unit, please take a read here.

If you’ve been inspired by Donna and would like to take part in this year’s Enchanted Midsummer Walk on Saturday 15 June, you can find out more here.