Five months after her husband Paul died at The Hospice of St Francis of lung cancer, Christine Dyer, 68, from Berkhamsted, began volunteering in Laundry, helping to tackle the giant pile of ironing the Hospice generates each week.
It’s a task she really enjoys as well as a way of giving something back to the Hospice in return for the care Paul received in the last few weeks of his life.
Here she tells her story:
“Paul put me forward for the ironing job while he was staying at the Hospice. He knew I liked ironing and thought I might enjoy it. At first I was worried about seeing other patients in the bed where Paul was cared for, but actually it’s fine and it gets easier as time goes by.
“It’s a comfort to come back to the Hospice each week as it’s a place where Paul was so peaceful and happy. The nurses who looked after Paul often pop into the laundry for a chat while I’m there. Everyone makes me feel so welcome and it’s good to feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.
“Paul was such a larger than life character. In the first week he was at the Hospice he had about 60 visitors. Everyone who knew him loved him and wanted to wish him well. Despite his illness, he would switch himself on like a light bulb whenever anyone came to visit.
“The Hospice gave him the comfort, support and sense of security to be able to do that, which was so liberating for him. He knew he only had a couple of weeks left and the care and support of the Hospice gave him the strength to be able to cope with it all. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to take everything in your stride knowing you have that network of support behind you.
“He also felt so loved. One of our neighbours in Italy, where we have a small house in Loreto, in the province of Pescara, wrote an article about Paul for the local paper saying it’s not where you’re born that gives you a sense of belonging but how you feel about a place. He loved Italy and all our Italian friends and neighbours loved him too. He not only spoke to them in Italian, he could joke with them in Italian as well. He was quite self-conscious about his scar after he’d had his lung removed so he learnt how to say “I’ve been bitten by a shark” in Italian and would scare the children on the beach!
“We were in Italy in July last year when we had the call from the hospital to say the cancer had spread from his lung to his spine. He’d had an operation to remove his lung at the end of March and we thought that would give him a bit more time. It gave him three more months of good quality life.
“He’d been ill for a while but being such a strong person he didn’t let on. He just thought he was getting old and unfit and that he was working too hard at his job as a plumber. He was going to start a fitness regime at the beginning of 2017 and start looking after himself but just before Christmas 2016 he coughed up blood. The doctor sent him for an x-ray which revealed he had lung cancer.
“He hadn’t smoked for 20 years so we hadn’t considered that it might be lung cancer, however a small percentage of the population are susceptible to it even after they quit. He may have been inhaling dust due to the nature of his work. If he’d done a desk job he may have noticed something was amiss earlier. As it was, when they discovered it, it was probably too late.
“After we got back from Italy he was admitted to Watford Hospital but they were unable to do much for him. His GP referred him to The Hospice of St Francis and one of the hospice nurses came to see him at home. For the first time, someone spoke honestly to him about his situation. He was relieved that at last someone was telling him the truth. If you know what you’re facing, you can plan for it.
“He was admitted to the Hospice on 16th August. When he got there it was as if a weight had been lifted. He felt safe and the medical staff helped to manage his pain and mobility. Although his movement was limited he still had his wit and humour and was interested in the world around him.
“The Hospice gave Paul such an amazing sense of peace and security. It was the honesty and care he received that made such a difference. He was treated as an individual rather than a problem that was going to cost money, which gave him strength and dignity. It was his wish that more people should have the chance to experience the peace and dignity the Hospice provides in their final days.
“We knew about the Hospice before Paul was ill and always supported it but we had no idea how fantastic it was. Once he was admitted all his friends started donating and so far they’ve raised more than £3,000 through fundraising events. Some of his friends took part in the Berkhamsted Golf Day and won it – which is ironic as Paul didn’t like golf – but the more people who know about the Hospice and the incredible work it does, the better.
“From the minute he was diagnosed we were hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. It wasn’t what we expected for our life together but the best way I can honour his memory is by being as positive and proactive as he was.
“He had such courage and would have hated me to have moped around. We had so much planned for this year, including visiting the Far East and South America so I plan to go to all the places we wanted to go to together.”
It costs over £5million every year to offer a hand in the darkness to local people like Christine and Paul. Without your support we could not continue to help people to live their precious lives well.
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