With under a month to go until Christmas, Val Howlett, who is under the care of St Catherine’s Hospice, shares how she’s making the most of the here and now including enjoying an early Christmas.
“I was diagnosed with terminal cancer last August and, since then, I’ve taken one day at a time. I still have a laugh and I try to get out as much as I can when I feel well.
Before I was referred to St Catherine’s I was in a lot of pain with my tumour and nobody was helping me to manage it. But the hospice has helped me with equipment at home, like a raised toilet seat and a handrail, and a nurse phones me after my appointments to see how I am.
When I first heard the word hospice I wasn’t scared but I didn’t really know what to expect. I had never been to St Catherine’s before, and didn’t know what it did, so I decided to come and look around with my daughter, Tina. She does so much for me and often knows what I need before I do! She takes me out, and organises all my appointments and medication. We’re really close and she’s my rock.
And when I came into the hospice for the day, I was enamoured by it. I’ve never met such lovely people! I chatted to another lady and it was good to offload with someone in the same situation as me. Coming to the hospice helped me decide that I’d like to be at St Catherine’s when the time comes too.
The hospice has supported Tina as well. She saw a counsellor here and got a lot from being able to offload and share how she was feeling.
We get on with things as best we can though. My family have always done crazy things together and that’s not stopped because I’m ill. And I’m still determined to do as much as I can.
I’ve always wanted to go to Australia and have Christmas on the beach. I know I’ll never get to Australia now, so I asked my family if we could do an early Christmas on the beach here instead. So seven of us headed to Seaford in September! We had a BBQ on the beach, played Christmas music, wore Santa hats, and had a mini Christmas tree, with a pile of presents underneath as part of our Secret Santa. It was good fun!
I knew some people would probably give us weird looks, wondering what we were doing, so I had some collection pots for St Catherine’s. Some people gave us donations, and others shouted Merry Christmas as they walked by. The day’s a great memory for me and my family, and I love to look back at the pictures from it. Tina makes me photo albums of the special things our family does together.
And now I’m working through my bucket list. I’ve petted the Meerkats at Tilgate Nature Centre and seen a Bee Gees show at the Hawth. I’m currently planning a helicopter ride. And I’d love to adopt an elephant too!
Making memories is really important especially when you’re ill, so if there’s anything you want to do, just do it! It doesn’t matter how silly it might sound, or what other people might think. Do things, get out and about, and make memories while you still can.”
St Catherine’s can only help people like Val enjoy the time they have left with their family and friends, thanks to the generosity of people like you. To make a donation so more people like Val can receive end of life care and support please visit: www.stch.org.uk/donate