When Beth’s dad, Tony, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she felt like her whole world just stopped. Here, Beth explains how Birmingham St Mary’s gave her strength through the most unstable of times and why taking part in the Enchanted Midsummer Walk is a unique way to celebrate happy memories of her dad.
My dad was amazing – he really was one in a million. He was the kindest, most incredible person that you could ever come across, always going out of his way to help other people and his family. When he passed away, it was such a huge loss to everyone.
It was in the August when we found out that my dad had bowel cancer. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a normal day and I had just got back from work. I knew that he had been to hospital the night before but still, nothing could have prepared me for that news. When he told me he had been diagnosed with cancer, I felt my whole world just stop there and then. He was just 55-years-old – you don’t think about illness and death at that age.
My dad’s cancer was the first time that my family had ever experienced illness. We’d never lost anybody or had gone through anything like this before, so we didn’t have a clue about treatments or stages. It was really difficult. It was tough having to go to different wards and meet different doctors – we didn’t really understand it all.
But after a week of tests and visiting different specialists, my family were handed more devastating news – the cancer was terminal. I remember the doctor saying that he had about “two to five years” and I just sat there thinking ‘that’s not enough’.
When my dad started having chemotherapy, it really knocked him but he was determined to keep on fighting it. And oh my word, he really did. That’s the thing with my dad – he never stopped fighting. He was ok for a while and my mum, brother and myself were able to care for him at home.
But it was in February when he suddenly became quite ill. He had pneumonia and had to go to intensive care. And that’s when Birmingham St Mary’s came in. The hospital gave us the option of staying there or using the services of Birmingham St Mary’s – and so we chose the hospice.
The nurses from the hospice were so refreshing. Dad and the rest of our family wanted to stay at home, so the Hospice at Home team made that happen. They said “we’re here for you and we’re always going to be here” – and they really were. They answered all our questions and provided us with so much care and compassion. But most of all, they gave us their time. They stopped and listened to our concerns – not just dad’s but the whole family’s – and that was so important to us.
As well as the Hospice at Home team, we also had Sandy visit us. Sandy was a clinical nurse specialist and was full of knowledge. When you’re feeling anxious and a bit helpless, having someone like Sandy was invaluable. It was so comforting to know that we had someone to turn to should we have any questions or need anything sorted. We depended on her for so many things because she just got them done. She was a life saver.
We were also put in touch with one of the hospice’s Family Support Workers, Hannah. Hannah was brilliant, especially for mum and me. At a time like that – when you really don’t know what to expect or how to feel – Hannah’s support was vital. She would tell us that what we were feeling was really normal, even if it was the most abnormal of circumstances. She gave us strength through the most unstable of times.
By May though, dad’s illness started to get worse. That’s when we arranged for him to come into the hospice. Dad was only there for one day before he passed away. I was completely heart-broken but I still get a lot of strength knowing that our family was able to be by his side.
The nurses at the hospice were amazing – they made it so respectful and peaceful for us all. You need those kind of people around – people with experience and knowledge – to help you through the darkest of times. Without their support that evening, I really think that I would be in a very different place.
Dealing with the loss of dad was one of the toughest things that I’ve ever experienced but with Birmingham St Mary’s support, it was made just that little bit better. Even now, I still receive support from the hospice with bereavement counselling. So many people think that a hospice is just a place for end of life care but it is so much more than that. I don’t have a life-limiting illness and yet I’ve received so much support from them. I really don’t know what state of mind I’d be in if it wasn’t for that help.
That’s why I took part in the Enchanted Midsummer Walk – to do something good for a place that does so much good for others. I completed the walk with my family and friends and it was such an uplifting and positive event. It can be quite bittersweet at times, because you know that there are a lot of people there for the same reason – everyone has that special someone who they are remembering. But it’s also so much fun and a unique way to talk about and share happy memories.
Our group raised £2,000 and knowing that that money could help more families to receive support like we did, is really rewarding. I know my dad would have been so proud of us. He was so kind and giving, and it’s a real honour to carry that kindness on in his memory.
Thank you Beth for sharing your story with us. If you would like to find out more about Birmingham St Mary’s services, take a read here. Or, if like Beth, you would like to take part in one of our fundraising events, you can check them out here.