A young mother from Horsham who lost her husband to cancer has told her story to show how vital the work of her local hospice is in times of crisis.
St Catherine’s Hospice at Crawley hopes to move to a new site offered at Pease Pottage.
Naomi Davies, 29, from Horsham shares her experience about how St Catherine’s helped her and her husband during his illness. Her comments are unedited.
“My husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer in March 2013. He had an Osteosarcoma in his jaw, a very rare form of cancer which had been removed in 2012 and then grew back.
“With two sons, Jamie who’s now eight and Lucas who’s four, it was a terrifying time for us as a young family. We were anxious and heartbroken; nobody our age should have to go through anything like it.
“We were referred to St Catherine’s after meeting with Ken’s oncologist. We’d never had anything to do with a hospice before and hearing the word made everything feel much more real. Soon after, Ken met a nurse at St Catherine’s to discuss what they could offer him and our family in terms of physical and emotional support.
“I really didn’t like the thought of going to St Catherine’s as my impression of a hospice was that it’d be a dark, gloomy, depressing place and would make our situation feel even more awful. At first, I refused to visit. It took me a few months to realize that perhaps I should go and see and experience the hospice.
“When I walked in my whole impression of what I thought it’d be like changed completely. Myself and Ken were greeted by a welcoming receptionist, into a lovely homely, light, spacious building. I couldn’t have been more wrong about what a hospice was – I wish I’d gone there sooner.
“During my husband’s illness we were offered counselling sessions and support on how to talk to our young sons. The care we received was like nothing I’ve seen before. Ken was helped to make memory boxes for our sons by the hospice’s Art Therapist and he regularly came in to work on them with her.
“My husband was a real man’s man and he’d never been interested in art before but he really enjoyed working on the boxes. At a time when so much had been taken away from him, it gave him something to focus on. He even encouraged another patient to make a memory box for his loved ones.
“Ken spent about three weeks as an Inpatient at St Catherine’s in February 2014 for help with pain relief and medication. This was when we really saw what St Catherine’s care was like. One thing that particularly struck me was how much time the nurses and doctors gave to talk to us.
“I was always worrying that Ken would be on his own if I couldn’t visit, but he said whenever he needed, there was always someone to chat to. Having the Octagon room, a lounge area where patients and families can sit, meant if he was bored he could go and spend time there or in the coffee shop. He wasn’t confined to one room and four walls like he had been in hospital.
“When our family and friends visited, they were always surprised to discover there was a beautiful garden and coffee shop we could all relax in and, when the tea trolley came round the wards each day, I was always overwhelmed with how the staff would offer me a drink too, not just my husband.
“St Catherine’s weren’t only a fantastic support for Ken and me but also for our young children. Our boys would get excited about visiting, which we were so pleased about as we wanted them to have a good experience.
“Even now, the boys are happy to come into the hospice and it’s not a scary place for them. One memory that stands out for me is when we were making paper aeroplanes with the boys in the Octagon. One of the nurses saw us and asked the boys if they would like to fly their aeroplanes from the balcony.
“It was just amazing to see the attention the nurses gave to small details like these and their care has meant our boys have fond memories of visiting their Dad. Wherever we were at the hospice, we always felt so welcome.
“We never felt like we were in the way. The hospice became our second home and it really did feel like home there.
St Catherine’s also taught us how to live the best life we possibly could. I remember one of the staff saying to me and Ken: ‘You’re not dying of cancer, you’re living with it.’
“It was such a strong statement and stuck with us the whole way through his illness. It changed our way of dealing with our situation; this was our life now and we needed to enjoy every moment we had, which we did.
“If it hadn’t been for St Catherine’s, I don’t know how we would have coped. We certainly wouldn’t have had the special moments together that we did. Whenever we had any queries, worries or issues there was always somebody we could contact and the doctor who looked after Ken was the most caring doctor we’ve ever seen.
“She always went above and beyond what we could have asked.
In the last few days of my husband’s life, when I received the call that his death would come soon, I became very anxious.
“However, the minute I walked through the doors at St Catherine’s I felt safe, secure and at peace. Ken felt the same. The hospice provided family rooms where I and other family members could stay overnight to be near my husband. It meant I was around whenever I needed to be.
“The staff talked us through exactly what was happening and were able to provide comfort when we needed it. One thing I appreciated, and that has stuck with me since, is how even though we were in the hospice the nurses still allowed to me to look after my husband.
“With their help, we had really special moments in the last couple of days there. I’m really passionate about supporting St Catherine’s and now volunteer at the hospice on reception and with the fundraising Team. Everyone is so friendly and despite everything, I still really enjoy coming here. Our experience of St Catherine’s was just amazing. I’ll always be grateful to the hospice for everything they’ve done for me and my family.”