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Family supported by hospice after mum diagnosed with breast cancer

18 December 2023

Bereavement is a journey no one should go on alone.

Our expert counsellors and therapists helped the Upham family when their mum, Rachel, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.

Despite going through years of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as well as a mastectomy, cancer was later found in Rachel’s spine and liver.

Her husband, Mark, and their four girls, 17-year-old twins Esther and Olivia, 19-year-old Eleanor and 22-year-old Madeleine, stood by Rachel every step of the way, including creating precious memories on their last Christmas together in 2022.

This year, their Christmas will be a little different but, Mark says, they are determined to get through it together.

“At the end of last year, Rachel ended up on three different courses of medication as the doctors just wanted to try everything they could,” Mark explained. “Each time she was told the cancer had grown it was a huge blow for her.

“In December 2022 she really started to deteriorate. The week before Christmas we went down to Cornwall. While we were there, Rachel struggled with her breathing and had bad pain in her legs.

“We got through Christmas, but she just wasn’t right at all. Rachel was admitted to hospital in the first week of January this year and she didn’t come out.

“The twins were turning 17 on the Friday before she died so we made sure they had time with their mum; she was aware but not speaking. We all believe she was holding on to make sure she didn’t die on the girls’ birthday.”

During Rachel’s illness and hospital treatment, both she and Mark received counselling support from Birmingham Hospice’s Wellbeing Team. Rachel also had sessions with Angela, our hospice’s Complementary Therapist, to practice meditation and prescribe her oils and balms to help her sleep.

“Our main support from the hospice was through therapy services,” Mark explained. “Counsellors Chris and Jayne spoke to Rachel and I separately so we could get things off our chest.

“Jayne and Rachel would go for walks and chat. Rachel also received Complementary Therapy with Angela, which was a big part of Rachel’s support. She had phone calls with Angela, she’d lie on the bed, and they would meditate over the phone. Rachel’s sleep really deteriorated so the potions Angela made up for her really helped.

“One of the things Angela always spoke to Rachel about was her energy levels – encouraging her to split up her energy and recognise where she wants it to go. Rachel was able to put time aside for the children as her main priority.”

Mark said the counselling sessions with Chris have really helped him over the past year by having an outlet to express his thoughts and feelings. 

He said: “What helped was just talking about the future and working through my thoughts; how do I cope when my wife is going to die?

“I have an amazing relationship with my family, but we are all emotionally attached. With Chris I can talk objectively about anything.

“The counselling here has been amazing. As a family, we’ve had really good support from the hospice.”

Rachel died aged 52 in February this year, meaning this Christmas will be Mark and the girls’ first without her.

“This year will be our first Christmas without Rachel; it will be an emotional day, but we will get through it together,” Mark added.

“I have had conversations with Chris in my counselling sessions about it being our last Christmas together last year and how this year will be difficult. It’s been helpful to have the opportunity to talk about it.

“One of my girls, Eleanor, recently asked me if I’m lonely, and I said: I’m alone but I’m not lonely.”

Incredibly, Esther and Olivia recently raised more than £6,000 running the Birmingham Half-Marathon and donated the funds to our charity. We couldn’t be more grateful for this tremendous support in honour of your wonderful mum.

Thank you so much for sharing your story.