Eleanor Keohane tells her story | The Hospice of St. Francis

Eleanor Keohane tells her story

The girls had one-to-one support from the children’s team.

We are constantly moved by the number of people inspired to fundraise for us in memory of a loved one after experiencing our care first-hand or receiving support themselves as a relative, friend or carer.

As she faced losing her beloved husband Paul and devoted father of their four daughters Freya, 13, Ursula, 12, Maddie, 10 and Cordelia, six, Eleanor Keohane told her friends on Facebook that she was entering a team - the Keohane Crew - for the Hospice’s Mud Pack Challenge and invited them to join her.

The response was overwhelming. Friends started signing up in their droves and on Sunday 18th October the nearly 100-strong Keohane Crew will be crawling, climbing and wading through the mud at Ashridge House, negotiating wet and muddy obstacles in Paul’s memory.

They want to thank the Hospice for the support it gave not only City banker Paul, 52, but the whole Keohane family since the gifted athlete and all round sportsman was first diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer in April 2013.

Here Eleanor, 43, tells their story:

“The first sign we had that anything was wrong was back in April 2010, when Paul had some niggling pain around his hips. He enjoyed playing cricket for Little Gaddesden – he was their number one batsman but it was a standing joke amongst his team that he always had back strain.

“A visit to a specialist and an MRI scan revealed nothing abnormal so he took up pilates and dealt with the pain himself. But around Easter 2013, it all got too much and a visit to our GP and another MRI scan immediately revealed a tumour at the base of his spine, which was diagnosed as Ewings Sarcoma, a very rare form of bone cancer which usually only affects teenagers. At 50, Paul was the oldest person on record to get it.

He was so fit and healthy it didn’t seem possible but because he was in such good shape, we decided that being positive was the only way to go.

He had a year of intensive chemotherapy at The Churchill Hospital in Oxford followed by radiotherapy and seemed to be responding well.  He was determined not to let it beat him but as soon as the chemo stopped, a secondary tumour developed in his pelvis, part of which they removed in a 16-hour operation in January of this year.

He nearly died on the operating table and how he pulled through I’ll never know. Back home again, he was in a huge amount of pain but with regular weekly visits from the district nurses, the Hospice’s specialist community nurses, physiotherapy in the Hospice gym and psychological support from the Hospice’s supportive care team, he went from just about being able to get in and out of bed to being able to move around independently with the help of a frame.

We even managed to get him to various sports events or school events that the girls were taking part in, each of which lifted him no end.

The girls had one-to-one support from the children’s team and I had support from the Supportive Care team at the Hospice, where we could say things to a stranger that we couldn’t say to relatives or friends.

It was a great help to the girls and it gave me, as a mum, the confidence to manage the situation, to ask them how much they wanted to know and most importantly be honest with them.

If I needed advice, I’d call the Hospice rather than my own GP. Paul really didn’t want to give into his illness. He was so stoical, so determined to struggle on with his pain but towards the end,  it was the district nurse who said I was running out of steam and it was time to get some help at the Hospice.

I hoped we’d be in and out – that they’d get his drugs sorted, help manage his pain and within a few days he’d be home again. I remember him being really nervous as we drove up in the ambulance. As we walked towards the door, I couldn’t believe we’d come to this but when we reached the entrance, so many nurses were smiling and welcoming us, offering me tea and asking if I’d had anything to eat as it was lunchtime.

We got into his room and the doctors came and spent time with him and by the end of the day, I could see him visibly relax. He was so comfortable being there.

Paul had wanted to be at home but the Hospice became his home from home and to him and to all of us that was really important. We’d had excellent care in hospital but he said the nurses at the Hospice and the care they gave him was beyond anything he’d ever experienced.

The care, the love and the support was amazing. Those precious moments like us all having ice cream in his room together and Cordelia appearing on a pony on the patio outside his window. “Hi Daddy!” she called from her saddle. Paul was in seventh heaven – he adored his girls.

"Hi Daddy" - Cordelia Keohane, 6, pays a surprise visit on a pony to her Dad Paul on the IPU

He was still fighting pain on many levels - his pelvis wasn’t knitting together after the surgery and the cancer was spreading to his spine and neck, but after two days I walked in one morning to find him euphoric. He’d slept all night and woken up pain-free for the first time in months.

I’d go up and see him every day and sit by his bed on a comfy chair or on the bed next to him. The girls took time off school and we’d sit happily with him for hours on the patio, playing silly games, having a sandwich or doing a crossword.

Friends and family were free to come and visit and a couple of his old friends even came to read to him and we watched the England Women’s Football Team on TV and enjoyed a beer.

I hadn’t realized I could stay over but for the last six or seven nights I did stay with him. I’d go home for supper with the girls and ask them if they wanted me to stay at home or be with Daddy and they always said they wanted me to be with Paul.

The nurses gave me a camp bed the same height as his and we’d go to sleep holding hands as though we were in a double bed together. 

As the end approached, thanks to the Hospice’s Children’s Services team managing a situation I’d never have been able to navigate on my own, the girls were so well prepared to the point that they knew when Paul was ready to go.

Just days after he was admitted, on 22 June this year, Paul passed away peacefully with me by his side. The Hospice Chaplain said the most beautiful prayer, which ended with the words, “Go on your travels my friend, be safe” and I saw Paul relax as though he realized it was OK now for him to go.

We miss him more than words can say and life will never be the same without him, but I can never thank the Hospice enough for providing such fantastic care for Paul and for continuing to provide support for families like ours, and through events like the Mud Pack Challenge, allowing us to maintain the bond that we all feel so strongly.”