Motorbike enthusiast Paul Sharpley spent his final two weeks as an inpatient at The Hospice of St Francis, during which time he celebrated his 44th birthday and married his partner Katie.
Mum-of-three Katie Taylor-Sharpley says Hospice staff pulled out all the stops to help make their wedding happen providing precious memories of a special day and the perfect end for her and Paul who died five days later.
Here she tells her story:
“Paul and I had always planned to get married but Paul wanted to do it properly. We got married at 6.30pm on 23rd November 2017 after only deciding to get married at 2.15pm that afternoon. It was amazing how as soon as we said we wanted to get married everyone rallied round to help make it happen.
“Once I asked Paul to marry me and he agreed (but only if I bought him a platinum ring!), I spoke to Ray, the Hospice Chaplain, who set the ball rolling. The doctor wrote a letter to the registrar to explain why we needed an emergency wedding licence and Ray phoned the registrars’ office to let them know I was coming. The doctor also phoned Abbey Fine Jewellery who agreed to stay open until I got there. I dashed off home to get changed, pick up a shirt and tie for Paul then sped along to the registrar’s office in Hemel Hempstead to wait for our marriage licence to come through. I’m normally quite a patient person but that day I wasn’t feeling very patient at all.
“I didn’t know Paul’s ring size so before I left the Hospice I found a sticker and wound it round his finger, which I then took to the jewellers to buy wedding rings for us both.
“When I got back to the Hospice, the staff had decorated the chapel and the day room with balloons, there were champagne glasses at the ready and paper hearts had been scattered over the floor. It looked beautiful.
“While it was a celebration, it was just going to be for Paul and I as he was too ill for a big celebration but word had got round and our families and a few close friends also turned up. My mum hadn’t told the children when she picked them up that we were going to get married so it was a complete surprise for them and they were delighted, really excited and very emotional.
“Paul’s best man had to help him sign the register as the cancer had spread to his brain and he wasn’t able to do it himself. Paul had malignant melanoma which attacked most of his organs.
“He’d had skin cancer seven years earlier but had been given the all clear in November 2015. However, in May 2017 he started feeling unwell again. One day he went to work as usual as a production manager at a solder manufacturer but by the end of the day a huge golf-ball sized lump had appeared in his neck. He also found a lump in his side. An ultra-sound scan revealed eight or nine other lumps in his neck.
“He was referred to Dr Paul Nathan, a leading melanoma specialist at Mount Vernon Hospital, who suggested Paul would be a good candidate for immunotherapy. As it turned out he had one session of immunotherapy but was never well enough for further treatment.
“Further investigations showed he also had a mass in his stomach where the melanoma had got entangled with his large intestine. We knew then that he would just be receiving palliative care.
“As the mass in his stomach was so large and the risks so great, at first the surgeons refused to operate but eventually Dr Nathan persuaded them to carry out the surgery and at the end of August it went ahead successfully.
“Paul came home for about four weeks until one morning on my way to work he called to say that he thought he was having a stroke. He was blue-lighted to Watford General where we were told the cancer had spread to his brain. He’d been booked in for one more session of immunotherapy but when we were travelling to Mount Vernon Hospital on the Friday, we received a call to say that the drugs hadn’t arrived. We went back on Monday but by then we both knew it was too late. The doctor took one look at him and he was admitted there and then. It soon became clear there was nothing more they could do.
“I’d heard from friends about The Hospice of St Francis and how not only is the patient care fantastic but also how they support their families. I knew this was where I wanted Paul to be and pushed for him to be moved there. It was obvious he needed too much care to be able to come home.
“He was admitted on 14th November and died exactly two weeks later during which time we celebrated his 44th birthday in the day room and got married. He also had his beloved motorbike brought to the Hospice. He called it his ‘baby’ and it was the love of his life. His dad rode it up and parked it on the patio of his room so he could look out of his window and see it, which brought him a lot of happiness. One of Paul’s concerns when he came to the Hospice was that he wouldn’t see his beloved Honda Valkyrie, but the Hospice allowed us to make it happen for him.
“Since he died my two youngest children Lowri, 10 and Archie, 8, have been up to the Hospice nearly every week. They miss him terribly and we talk about him every day. It has been quite a roller coaster for them but the counselling and support they’ve received from the Hospice has helped them come to terms with what has happened. They’ve been amazing, children are very resilient.
“They also attended the Hospice Christmas party not long after Paul died as well as film mornings and Pony Days. Lowri also comes along to Drawbridge, a creative therapy for older children.
“I haven’t been brave enough to start counselling yet. I have to make sure everyone else is alright before I worry about me, but it’s comforting to know the Hospice will be there for me when the time comes.
“The Hospice is such a special place and I’ll cherish forever the beautiful memories of the day Paul and I got married. I’m so grateful to everyone who helped make it happen. All the right people pulled together at the right time to give us the perfect end. One of the most comforting things is that every time we visit the Hospice the staff remember us and our wedding, which really helps the healing process.
“When Paul went to sleep forever, it was an indescribable pain but the Hospice has helped ease that pain and continues to do so. As a family we have joined in some of the fundraising events and will continue to do so in the hope that we can help the Hospice help others.”
It costs over £5million each year to offer a hand in the darkness to local people like Katie and Paul. Without your support we could not continue to help people to live their precious lives well.
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