After moving to the UK from humble beginnings in Ireland as a young woman, Catherine embarked upon an incredible journey of success in business – starting out as an intern and working her way up to becoming the director of the company. But when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, life brought new challenges she wasn’t prepared for. When she felt lost,
Keech Hospice Care helped her find herself again.
“I never really understood how serious grade three breast cancer was and nobody had explained it to me either. I had a lumpectomy, my lymph glands removed and six months of chemo as well as radiotherapy every day for four weeks. I had a month off work and then was back to work full-time. It was working really that helped to keep me sane.
I was on medication for two years which caused the most horrendous side effects. Everything in my life had changed and I just couldn’t cope. It got to the stage when I had to tell my doctor I needed help. I saw a psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and so, as a result, I stayed at a clinic for two weeks where I had therapy that helped to calm me down.
Just as I was starting to feel a lot better I was diagnosed
with secondary cancer. It was too much for me to take and I ostracised myself from my friends and it was hard for my husband David to cope too.
I remember being told I had cancer for a second time. My husband and I were coming back from visiting his mother, and I said I had this terrible pain in my side. As the evening went on it got worse and I ended up going to A&E.
I was devastated, absolutely devastated.
I was sent for a full MRI scan and was given the news that it wasn’t good. I had a tumour on my spine and the cancer was in my liver and in the lymph glands below my collar bone on my left-hand side too. I was told I couldn’t be cured but I could be treated with chemotherapy.
So, I went straight into chemo and the first few sessions were horrendous. My hair fell out very quickly and I felt so tired and was just exhausted the whole time. Just as I reached my lowest ebb my Macmillan nurse suggested go to Keech Hospice Care because I needed more assistance and someone to talk to. I didn’t really understand what palliative care was and I was frightened.
On my first day of coming to Keech I sobbed all the way up the lane, I couldn’t believe I was going there. One of the nurses met me just as I walked through the door, but I just could not stop crying. I was sobbing for three hours because I thought ‘I’m here because I’m going to die; it’s the end of the road.’
I now know it’s about so much more than just end of life care. It’s about pain management, giving support and care, and having somebody to talk to. At Keech there is a sense of ‘I’m not on my own here’. The first time I had cancer there was nobody to talk to about how I felt. I just fought on my own.
I’ve got very different views now. I look forward to coming to Keech on a Wednesday. It gets me out of the house and gives my husband a break. Everybody is so light-hearted, and people are interested to hear what you have to say.
At one point I had been put on a new drug and it brought a rash up on my neck and cheeks. I was scratching like mad, so I changed myself back to my previous anti-depressant and the itching appeared to stop. I saw Dr Anthea at Keech and she sorted everything. I’ve had issues trying to get things done with my GP but Keech sorted it.
For me Keech is a life saver because when I came to the hospice for the first time I was thinking life was not worth living. But from the moment I walked in the door, Keech has helped me. There is just so much empathy. It’s not a sad place. It has shown me that I have a life to live and should enjoy it. Keech has given me the tools to deal with my illness and has taught me so much about myself. I like hearing about other patients’ interests and what they do. We don’t talk about dying or how long people have got left.
Palliative care is not about giving your family a break from you, or about people watching over you, or taking medicine. It’s about finding yourself again. It helped me find Catherine again as I had lost her. I’d lost her in the melee of the diagnosis, the limbo, the uncertainty.
Even my husband David is welcomed with hugs and kisses by staff and patients whenever he comes to Keech and is a great believer in what the hospice has to offer. David feels I am energised when I leave Keech each week. It is my haven, my sanctuary, where I can laugh and cry with people who are experiencing the same life changing challenges.
I’m proud of what I’ve achieved in my life. I came from very humble beginnings and had a very basic education. My mum would have wanted me to work in an office. I became the director of a business and worked hard for it. My career was my biggest achievement but one of the proudest moments of my life was meeting Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their visit to Keech Hospice Care in 2016.
I was both honoured and delighted to have the opportunity to meet them. The centre was fizzing with anticipation and had an air of excitement to it as TRH entered the room. They circulated among the staff, patients and volunteers, and took time to speak to many people.
I was so fortunate to be introduced to the Duke and managed somehow to shake his hand - three times! He asked me personally how Keech Hospice Care supported me and my family. I told him Keech is an extension of my family and I had met some wonderful people, made new friends and without this charity our paths may have never crossed. The Duke showed genuine compassion and interest in what I had to say and exceeded my expectations with his warmth and charm. It was a day I will never forget.”
Catherine died on 8 December 2017 on the in-patient unit at Keech Hospice Care.
When it seems as if nothing will be the same again, Keech Hospice Care is there, free of charge. But we receive only 70% of our funding from the NHS. We rely on the generosity of our supporters to continue making the difference when it matters the most. Will you help us help more people like Catherine? Call us to find out more on 01582 707940 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.