“For me, as a Christian, my stay at The Hospice of St Francis was like being on a retreat but with all the care I needed for my body to learn how to cope with my cancer”, recalls Elizabeth Berdinner, 68 from High Wycombe who has endometrial cancer and was admitted to The Hospice of St Francis after collapsing at her home in mid-April.
“The Hospice been my support network for the last few weeks, a home-from-home, and nothing has been too much trouble." the retired English and religious studies teacher at Roundwood Park School in Harpenden continues.
“Before I was admitted, I couldn’t eat, my breathing was really difficult and I had absolutely no quality of life. I could barely walk to the shops and people kept stopping me to ask what was wrong. The local cancer nurses came and said I should be referred to the Hospice immediately for assistance. I’d always said, if ever I need a Hospice, it had to be St Francis as it has such a wonderful reputation and I’m glad to say the care really has been amazing –six stars!
“When I arrived I was in such a state for a couple of days but the doctors and nurses rallied around straight away working to get my horrendous pain under control. In fact, from the beginning, everyone has been so friendly, chatting to me, asking me questions telling me about themselves – they are all just such a cheerful team.”
Elizabeth has a strong Christian faith and whilst The Hospice of St Francis was founded by a group of Christian women at St Peter’s church in Berkhamsted it has always been there for people of all different faiths and none. The Hospice’s chapel is a multi-faith space and there is a spiritual team on hand for support for patients if required.
Elizabeth is full of praise for the charity’s spiritual offering saying, “My faith is very important to me and I was particularly worried about not being able to celebrate Holy Week which fell just after I was admitted to the Hospice, two days before Palm Sunday. On Maundy Thursday, I went to the Hospice’s Chapel. There was a candle burning and I shut the door and enjoyed some quiet time by myself; it was almost like being in a retreat house. On Good Friday and Easter Day, the chaplain, Ray led a service which I found deeply moving. I am hugely grateful that the Hospice has been able to take care of my illness whilst still enabling me to celebrate my faith.”
“I can’t return to my house now due to the limitations of my cancer but the Hospice, in particular social worker Sharon Kelly, has been marvellous in finding me a care home which completely fits my needs. Verulamium House has a view from its window of St Albans cathedral, which is my spiritual home. Over the past twenty years, it’s practically been my family - I sing there regularly with the St Albans Park choir, the Abbey is my church, all my friends live in the City and three in the care home I’m off to so whilst I’m not heading back to my house, I will be symbolically going home!”
Elizabeth had an extended stay in the Hospice to help her manage her significant pain and has enjoyed regular visits from family and friends who live nearby and are free to visit her at the Hospice whenever they want.
Elizabeth continues, “I have a brother and niece in Tring and a nephew in Kings Langley and we’ve enjoyed some quality family time when they’ve popped by to visit me. The children have loved the garden and seeing the fish and tadpoles in the pond and they also think they saw a rare Firecrest in the woods.
“As I move into the care home I’ll miss the chefs at the Hospice. They have known exactly what food to give me to help me eat again such as sausages without the skins on to help with my digestion. I’ve had fantastic, soothing hand massages and the Jacuzzi bath is my best hour of the day! I’m so swollen due to the cancer and the massaging bath is so relaxing and eases my pain. I’ve also really appreciated having a doctor onsite all the time so if I have any concern, however minor, they will answer my query. It’s so reassuring.
“The Hospice team were fantastic when I wanted to see the bluebells in early May. I always visit Dockey Wood at Ashridge at Bluebell time and didn’t want to miss the flowers this year. They helped practically, teaching me to walk using a walker, running an assessment to check that I would be able to walk the short distance to the woods from the carpark and ensuring I’d be able to manage my breathing. They’ve also wheeled me out in a wheelchair to see the bluebells in the Hospice woods which I’ve really appreciated.”
Elizabeth concludes, “The Hospice has provided all the respite care I need. I can’t fault it. I think it’s the best Hospice in the world, providing everything you need to help you feel better but still making you feel right at home. In a series of coincidences, I’ve met so many people I’ve known in my life whilst being here it feels like I was meant to come. My support network was all but gone from High Wycombe but here I’ve felt right at home. It’s been such a gift to me; I’ve cherished every precious moment.”
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