Last year was a really difficult time for many of us, for different reasons. A global pandemic and local restrictions meant that things were far from normal. For Joanne, the pandemic made life a whole lot worse but St Gemma’s was there for her husband and family when they really needed it. Joanne explains:
“My husband Matthew started having headaches each morning, we didn’t think anything of it. But by spring, he was really suffering and ended up in hospital. He was eventually diagnosed with a brain tumour. They did operate on him and begin treatment, but we later found out that this cancer was aggressive, untreatable and terminal. It was an enormous shock for him and the whole family. He was 46 when he was told he wouldn’t live for much longer.
As a family, we had experienced the cancer journey before. But the pandemic restrictions somehow made it so much worse. Under normal circumstances, your family and friends can support you in hospital and visit you at home. But Matthew didn’t have this. It was particularly awful for us both when he was having his treatment in the hospital for hours and I sat waiting in the car-park outside. Everything just felt remote and isolated.
“St Gemma’s made it very clear to me that it wasn’t just about supporting Matthew – it was about supporting all of us.”
Matthew’s condition deteriorated as the year went on, and in December we were referred to St Gemma’s. On our initial visit from Natalie, our St Gemma’s community nurse, it was clear he was getting worse and that caring for him at home was becoming too difficult. Natalie stayed with us for several hours that day, making sure we were OK and planning his admission to St Gemma’s In-Patient Unit. I really appreciated her kindness. After Matthew’s lonely journey throughout his cancer treatment, it was so important to us that I could stay right by his side the whole time, and St Gemma’s enabled this.
St Gemma’s made it very clear to me that it wasn’t just about supporting Matthew – it was about supporting all of us. It wasn’t just the nurses, doctor, consultant and healthcare assistants who cared – it was literally everyone on the ward, including the lady who made me cups of tea – I drank A LOT of tea! They even gave me a special fob so I could go and get a hot chocolate too.
The staff encouraged me to walk around the Hospice gardens if I needed some air, but I mainly stayed with Matthew. Our children were able to visit when Matthew was awake. Matthew loved Star Wars and was able to watch the last episode of the Mandelorian with our son, so that was really special.
On Christmas Day it was just me and Matthew. They made us a Christmas dinner and brought a little hamper for us both – which was so thoughtful. They had even brought in a bigger bed so I could lay next to him and watch Christmas TV together. He sadly died in the early hours of 27th December.
Since then, Jade from the Family Support team has provided vital support to our children and we’ve all been offered bereavement support. They have been brilliant. In fact the whole team have been a lifeline. We do feel very cared for through what has been the worst of times.
It’s clearly been a difficult year for everyone and you could see it was harder than usual for the staff – having to work in protective equipment and being unable to offer their usual hugs. However they somehow still managed to focus completely on the personal care we received. I really felt that was their ethos; it was very much centred on us.”