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“I feel that the doctors and nurses make every patient feel special”

10 June 2019

Meet Clare-Louise, one of Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice’s amazing supporters. Last year, Clare-Louise took on the National Three Peaks Challenge, in which she climbed the three highest peaks of Scotland, England and Wales in just 24 hours.

Read her inspiring story and discover why she decided to take on Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis in support of vital hospice care…   

Hi Clare-Louise, we can see that you recently took on the National Three Peaks Challenge for Birmingham St Mary’s…why did you want to do it?

I had toyed with the idea of the National Three Peaks Challenge over the years as it included things I love – trekking, jaw-dropping landscapes and being out in nature. The added obstacle of getting it done in just 24 hours only added to the thrill!

So when a friend suggested it, I leapt at the chance. It also seemed a fitting opportunity to raise money for Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, which I knew my friends and family would be proud of.

How did you find the trek?

It was tough but there were some beautiful moments. The challenge began by flying to Inverness from London, followed by a three hour coach journey to Fort William for an overnight stay. I did the challenge with eight friends and we decided to hire the services of a company that specialises in getting you through the 24 hour challenge – that way, we didn’t need to worry about getting lost or driving between the peaks!

We took on Ben Nevis first, which happened to be the highest and the most scenic – the views as you’re walking up are truly breath-taking. As soon as we had climbed it, we headed straight back into the minibus for a six hour trek up Scafell Pike – unfortunately, this was slightly less scenic but only because we climbed it after midnight! After some hot (and much-needed) porridge and tea, we got back into the bus for a five hour, wind-fuelled and very rainy trek up Snowdon.

What were your highlights of the challenge?

It had to be reading all the messages of support that came flooding in to our fundraising page. It was heart-warming to see so many people generously donating – it really lifted my spirits, even when I thought I couldn’t put one foot in front of another!

I know this isn’t technically related to the challenge but relaxing in a spa just hours after it all ended was also a highlight. Oh, and watching my friends attempting to walk around the following week produced some laughs too!

What were your toughest moments?

Probably standing at the foot of Ben Nevis at 8am on a rainy Friday morning and thinking ‘what have we let ourselves in for?’!

I think one of the toughest moments for me was the fear of not summiting each peak. To complete the challenge in 24 hours, you have to keep pace which is a challenge no matter what your fitness level is. I was near the back for pretty much every trek and several times I was asked to walk faster (no pressure!). As a result, our group of friends ended up splitting up for some of the trek and so not having them around could be tough – not that there was any time to stand around and chat mind!

The weather last year was also really relentless. We were told that our trek was the rainiest on record for that year and we were often greeted with 60mph winds, which made the ascents and descents more dangerous. It was a close call whether we’d be allowed on Scafell and Snowdon. Despite the damp conditions though, I still found myself having some hilarious moments – there’s a real sense of camaraderie when there’s lots of people on a minibus who are trying to dry off and sleep at the same time.

How do you train for a challenge like this?

General everyday fitness was key and I cycled to-and-from work which helped a lot. I also went out on longer walking trips that involved a hill…or three!

I also signed up for a trek at work in the High Tatras mountain range in Poland. I’d been three years previously and knew that it pushed you physically. In saying that though, it’s a gorgeous place to be – snow-capped mountains, clear mountain lakes, green forest and beautiful streams. It definitely makes the hard work worth it!

The National Three Peaks Challenge sounds tough – was it worth it?

It was 100% worth every effort to raise money and awareness for Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice. I refused to give up because of the fundraising and of course, memories of mum and dad kept me going too.

Why did you want to take on this challenge?

I did it for mum and dad and to raise money for the brilliant work of hospices.

The first time I ever walked into a hospice was 20-years-ago. I was completely dreading it and didn’t want to step inside the building. My dad, Ernie, had been admitted to a hospice in North London for respite care. It was to give my mum a break who had been caring for him 24/7 since he was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour 11 months before. Instead of a clinical and busy environment, the hospice was surprisingly calm and peaceful. It had a cosy family room to stay overnight – it just wasn’t at all what I expected.

20 years later and I didn’t expect to find myself at a hospice again. This time though, my mum Pauline had chosen to receive the care from Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice after being diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer in 2014.

I couldn’t speak more highly of the care and compassion she received from the staff there. Mum would speak so often of how comforting and safe the staff would make her feel and for that, I just don’t have enough words to thank them.

The staff were always there at every turn you would face, every change in condition, and every minor challenge that a family would come across. I know it seems strange to say but the hospice staff just seemed to know exactly what to do, what to say, and were great in assisting us to prepare for what was going to happen when the time came.

At Birmingham St Mary’s, mum was given the support of a wonderful nurse called Vicky, who was the calm voice during home visits or at the end of the phone whenever my mum or us needed it. Mum built up a great relationship with Vicky and I know she could talk to her about things she couldn’t speak to me about or the rest of our family.

Throughout the ups and downs, Birmingham St Mary’s admitted mum to the inpatient ward on at least four occasions to help get her pain under control and to keep her positive so she could enjoy her remaining time the way she wanted to. At the Hospice, she had her own room with direct access to a pretty and peaceful garden, where she could walk outside in the fresh air.

Mum also visited the Day Hospice every week and really enjoyed the helpful workshops delivered by staff, as well as the animal and arts therapy sessions.

Sadly, mum’s wish to die at Birmingham St Mary’s wasn’t to be as she was taken very poorly whilst visiting me one Christmas. However, she was fortunate to receive the same level of outstanding care at St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham, who also deserve a heartfelt mention.

It’s so painful coming to terms with knowing that your loved ones are going to die – there is no getting away from this. But through my first-hand experience, I feel that a hospice makes this scary and traumatic situation so much more manageable. The Hospice helped me cope, as well as both my parents, and for that, I wanted to do something which would see me give back to them.

That’s why I took on this challenge. I feel that the doctors and nurses at the Hospice make every patient feel special, providing their care with a natural smile and a big heart. Hospice care remains close to my heart and so it was worth all the wind, rain and pain to take on this challenge and give something back to them.

Thank you Clare-Louise for sharing your story with us. If you would like to find out more about our services, including how we provide care at home and at the Hospice, please take a read here.

Or, if like Clare-Louise, you’ve been inspired to take on your own challenge for hospice care, take a read here to discover how you can fundraise with your friends and family.