St Peter & St James Hospice

“They helped us through the toughest of times…”

Being treated in a hospice can be a positive experience, explains Geoff Atkins, 65, from Sussex…

Back when all my family and friends had the fortune of good health, before I had any reason to visit a hospice, my perception of one was as another version of a nursing home – where the patients sat in one room looking at each other guessing who was going to be next. So, when my mother became seriously ill in July 2015, I was wary of her going into the hospice for pain relief, but when we visited her, I realised I couldn’t have been more wrong. The building was modern, bright and airy, and the nurses were cheerful, caring and loving – a million miles away from the scenario I had in my head.

My mum died of bowel cancer, aged 91, two months later in September. Following her death, my wife Lin and I were made to feel we were the only people this has ever happened to. Despite it being such a busy place and the staff having so much to do, everyone received excellent treatment – the help and understanding offered to bereaved relatives is unsurpassable.

About the same time, Lin began feeling poorly herself. She had symptoms of acid reflux and felt that food was sticking in her throat. At first the doctor thought it was indigestion and told her to take tablets. An ultrasound scan came back clear, but Lin still felt unwell and even took some time off work. That was totally out of character for her, which made me feel something was very wrong. As the months passed with no improvement, we sought private medical attention. We had a diagnosis within a week. Lin had a terminal cancer of the oesophagus and had just weeks to live. To say we were devastated was an understatement. Lin underwent her first round of chemotherapy in February 2016, but, as she was at stage four, they explained if it wasn’t successful it couldn’t be repeated. Thankfully the treatment appeared successful, so last June we went to Nerja, on Spain’s Costa del Sol, where we had holidayed for the previous 14 years. We had a wonderful time and, upon our return, Lin wanted to take our children, Stuart and Sharon, their partners and six wonderful grandchildren to Disneyland in America. Sadly, she was too ill to attempt such an exhausting trip, so that July we hired a big house on the moors in Devon, so we could all be together. It was a fabulous break and the adults sat around putting the world to rights while the little ones swam in the pool. It was one of the happiest times we had and I take huge comfort knowing Lin had a wonderful time. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t Disneyland – what mattered was that we were all together.

Unfortunately, the day after we returned from Devon, Lin began to deteriorate and we made the first of three trips back to St Peter and St James Hospice. The first two visits were for symptom control, while the third was for end of life care in December. My beautiful wife of 43 years passed away peacefully – her pain was managed properly and her suffering was minimal. I can’t thank the hospice staff enough for all they did for her.

But thanks aren’t enough and having learned it costs £7,200 a day to run the hospice when my mum was ill, I knew it was right to carry on the fundraising we started back then. We had started fundraising as a family and called ourselves Team Atkins. Our first attempt raised £7,713 and I knew we could try to better this if family and friends pulled together again.

I decided, as many people do, to emulate how Lin looked after her chemo, so I shaved off my hair. My daughter, Sharon, decided to go one better and did a skydive. Our joint Just Giving page raised £20,325 including Gift Aid – and it didn’t stop there. My son-in-law, Stewart, ran the London Marathon and raised £4,099. A dear colleague of Lin and I, Martin Harmes, ran the Brighton Marathon and raised £3,044. My best friend, Chris Hudson, had a sober April and raised £541. Last year, Chris’s daughter, Katie, ran the Richmond Half Marathon, raising £795, and my lovely niece, Kirstie Atkins, 21, cut off her ponytail and raised £772! That’s a total of £37,288 (with Gift Aid). I’m sure it won’t stop there, as my daughter-in-law, Laura, is planning to run the Brighton Marathon next year. It helps the hospice, but the amount of fundraising is also a fitting testimony to my wonderful wife. It shows how well thought of she was.

Since Lin’s death, both my daughter and I have had grief counselling through the hospice. It’s really helped us through. The charity support families long after they have suffered a loss, which is so important. They put me in touch with Footsteps, who arrange for a group of people who’ve lost loved ones to meet up and take a walk around a National Trust property. It’s a great way to meet and support those in a similar situation, and it’s helped me get out and socialise by myself.

Recently, we discovered the hospice is planning to create a memorial garden for bereaved families and friends within its little courtyard. It will have shrubs and plants, and a piece of artwork is to be commissioned as a beautiful focal point. Eight families, including ours, who have donated a significant amount to the hospice, will be acknowledged within the garden and a plaque will be placed in Lin’s memory. It’s such a privilege and I’m incredibly touched that we will have a lasting tribute for my wonderful wife.

TOTAL RAISED: £49,732

St Peter & St James Hospice – THE FACTS

  • The hospice’s mission is to support people to live well towards the end of their life by offering compassion, hope and quality care.
  • They help families to cope during a patient’s illness and through their own bereavement
  • There are hundreds of hospices like this one across the UK that also care for those with other incurable illnesses such as motor neurone disease, HIV & AIDS, advanced organ failures and neurological conditions.
  • Visit stpeter-stjames.org.uk for more information.

BIG GIVE UPDATE

Money raised will be used to provide specialist care to the terminally ill.

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