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I was able to go back to being mum’s daughter not her carer

Mandy Martin, Horsham

“My mum, Lynne was an auxiliary nurse; all her life she cared for people, that’s just who she was. She had a stubborn streak too. You’d never be able to get her to do something she didn’t want to, and she was an organiser, right down to the instructions she left about dressing her in her favourite skirt and making sure she had her most treasured photos and letters from us all when she was gone.

Mum had been feeling unwell since late 2015. She always had aches and pains so none of us thought much of it, but in May 2016, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and we were given options to help her.

The minute we heard the word hospice, we thought ‘that’s it, job’s done’, but now we know that’s not completely true. Dr Gregory, one of St Catherine’s doctors, came to visit mum at home and was so good at explaining things. She was always happy to talk and give us time, and that made a real difference. Mum also had support from St Catherine’s community nurses, who helped manage her pain at home, but when it became too much, she was admitted to the hospice.

When I brought mum to St Catherine’s, it was my first time here. Mum didn’t want to go to St Catherine’s and neither me or my sister could get her to move from the car. She was so nervous her knees were knocking but a nurse spoke with her and she agreed to go inside. The minute we entered the hospice, someone offered me a cup of tea, and I instantly realised it wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t like a hospital, it felt like a little hotel with a community feel. It was warm and welcoming and I wasn’t scared about leaving mum as I knew she’d be looked after.

We settled mum into her room and helped her make it her own. She loved purple, it was her favourite, so we brought her purple bedding, family pictures and flowers, and myself and my sisters stayed with her overnight, sleeping in a chair by her bed, or in the relatives’ room. It was lovely that there were no visiting time restrictions – we could just be with mum whenever she needed us and, thanks to St Catherine’s, I was able to go back to being mum’s daughter – not her carer. Small details made a real difference too. We loved indulging in the ward’s drinks trolley and, one day, when an ice cream van arrived at the hospice, nurses brought mum an ice cream. She absolutely loved it!

When mum was approaching the end, a doctor took us into the relatives’ room and told us it was short days. It was a nice way to put it, and I’ll never forget how lovely all the staff were, or how selflessly they cared for mum. Whenever they were with her, they’d talk to her even though she couldn’t answer, they used slip sheets to move her, they brushed her hair, and made sure she was eating and drinking whenever she was able. They even dipped a soft brush in water to keep mum’s lips moist. Whatever mum needed, it was there. The night before mum passed away, my brothers, sisters and I stayed with her. She wasn’t alone for a single minute, and nurses tended to her all through the night, making sure she was comfortable and not in any pain.

And their care didn’t stop once mum was gone. We left mum’s instructions with the nurses and they made sure mum had all her special bits, just like she wanted. When we visited, mum looked just like she was sleeping and we were able to spend as much time with her as we needed. My sister had made a blanket with our names on and we filled a secret pocket with pictures, petals and flowers; it was lovely.

Mum was one of nine siblings, and her youngest brother, Mick, visited her just before she went into the hospice. As he got home from visiting, mum sent him a text message: “Loved to spend time with you but in better circumstances, please don’t forget me LAD, Love you to the Moon and back. Love Sis Lynne”.

In September, Uncle Mick decided to do something to remember mum and raise awareness of St Catherine’s. He loves bikes, so he’s embarking on a month long, 5,000 mile bike ride around the UK coastline on a motorbike that he’s built himself. His girlfriend’s painted the bike purple and covered it in roses, mum’s favourite flower, and we’ve nicknamed it Dancing Queen, after Mum’s favourite song. As Mick rides, he’ll have 12 dream catchers (to represent mum’s grandchildren) and six roses (to represent her children) attached to the bike. He’ll lay a rose in different places as he travels, as mum didn’t get to travel much while she was here, so this is his way of taking her on his journey with him. Uncle Mick will be leaving from St Catherine’s on Friday 21 July 2017 at 1.45pm, which will be exactly a year since we lost mum. For me, there’s no better tribute to the wonderful lady I called Mum.

I’m so grateful to St Catherine’s for everything they’ve done. Thank you never seems enough, but raising money, so St Catherine’s can care for other people like they did mum, is my family’s way of saying thank you.”

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