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Maurice and Stella’s story

9 May 2024

Fulfilling people’s care wishes at the end of their life is at the heart of our work at Birmingham Hospice.

Maurice Dolphin was diagnosed with throat cancer 11 years ago and was determined to make the most of his life with his wife Stella, 76, and three daughters.

Maurice had a successful career in West Midlands Police where he led the Underwater Search Team and worked his way up to the role of Chief Inspector before he retired aged 46.

He met Stella in 1967.They began seeing each other after Maurice bought them tickets to a concert and ‘the rest was history!’, said Stella.

The couple, from Sutton Coldfield, got married in 1969 and went on to have three daughters. Maurice loved dinghy sailing and sea sailing, and he often got his two youngest daughters involved.

In 2013 Maurice began to have a strange feeling in his throat, although he had no problems eating or drinking. He went to see his doctor who referred him for a scan and a biopsy, and found he had a very small tumour on his larynx.

Stella said: “When you hear the word ‘cancer’ it just doesn’t sink in straight away. At the time, the doctor said we’d caught it early so they should be able to cure it.”

Maurice then underwent 20 laser surgeries to burn away the cancer and the surrounding tissue as it kept coming back.

Stella added: “Maurice also had 22 sessions of radiotherapy at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital which was successful for a few months where it was showing as clear. We were on a high; we thought he’d been cured.

“But things still weren’t right. Maurice then had his voice box and part of his thyroid removed to try and stop the cancer spreading.

“He adjusted marvellously after this and kept active, he went on walks, still enjoyed eating and drinking and he was told he had a great oesophageal voice. He was even asked by Heartlands Hospital to speak to other people who were awaiting the same surgery to give them reassurance.”

Sadly, Maurice began having the same initial sensation in the other side of his throat. After some follow up tests, he found that the cancer had spread to his lungs.

“It was such a shock,” added Stella.

Maurice was offered chemotherapy but decided to refuse it.

Stella explained: “Maurice said to the consultant, ‘if it’s not going to cure me, I don’t want to have it’.

“He had already gone through so much, what he really wanted was to go home and get on with his life and what quality of life he had left.”

Maurice was referred to Birmingham Hospice in 2022 which is when the couple met Rachel Harrison, Lead Clinical Nurse Specialist.

Rachel and the team supported Maurice with managing his medication and providing specialist equipment to make being cared for at home as comfortable as possible, including a hospital bed.

“Everything we needed was there within the hour; it was amazing,” Stella said.

“I said to Rachel, ‘Have we got to pay for this?’ And she explained that everything provided was free of charge, I couldn’t believe it.

“This is why it’s so important to me, my family and our friends to give as much as we can to support the hospice.”

Maurice decided that he wanted to spend his final moments at home, surrounded by his family.

Stella explained: “He did go into the hospice for a very short time for care, but decided he didn’t want to stay or spend his last days there. It was nothing personal; purely the emotional side that he wanted to be at home with the family for however long he had left.

“He was such a strong-willed person and determined that the cancer wouldn’t get him, but then he began to get worse, and he realised that he had to accept it.

“He had always been a very active person; he wasn’t the type to sit in front of the television.

“It was when he lost the ability to sip water and had to be fed through a tube which was really sad as he loved his food. He just slept and slept and that’s when I knew things were changing.”

Maurice died at home in November 2023.

Speaking about the care he received from the hospice, Stella said: “We are more than grateful for the help we received.

“Rachel was golden; anything Maurice needed she would sort out for him, she made sure he was comfortable.

“She was our rock. She was so professional and reassuring, but she also made us laugh and kept us going through the hard times.

“Maurice was a very proud man; he always took pride in his appearance and wore a shirt and tie, and the people from the hospice always treated him with such respect and dignity.

“I couldn’t fault anything the team did for us; they were our guardian angels.

“We couldn’t have cared for him without the hospice.”

Thank you so much Stella for sharing your story.