For eight years, Heidi, 43, battled cancer, determined to live her life. Keech Hospice Care was there every time she needed our specialist support. Her sister Shelley tells their story.
“Our world turned upside down in 2009,” Shelley remembered, “when Heidi was diagnosed with breast cancer which had gone to one of her lymph nodes.
“The two great loves of Heidi’s life were music and her husband-to-be Jodey, and Heidi was determined cancer wasn’t going to stop her getting married. After the wedding, in May 2009, she continued with treatment, and had the tumour and her lymph nodes removed. When she finished treatment later in 2009, for all we knew she was better - she just had to go for check-ups every six months."
But, in May 2013, Heidi started to get backache; doctors confirmed the cancer was back and had spread to her central nervous system. “Heidi was told there was a possibility she wouldn’t be around for Christmas,” explained Shelley, “but Heidi said she was going to celebrate her 40th birthday the following year - she was determined to have treatment, fight and get better."
Keech home from home
It was at this point that Heidi came to Keech Hospice Care, where she was supported with all the care she needed, including physio, until she was ready to be discharged home.
Heidi was at Keech’s in-patient unit for about two months. “The staff were lovely – the care team helped Heidi and the family so much,” Shelley stated. "It was like a home from home for us because we could come and go as we wanted. I used to go over every morning after dropping my girls at school to sit with her and have a cup of tea."
For a while afterwards, Heidi seemed to go from strength to strength and even took part in a sponsored race in 2014, walking the last 100m on crutches. But things took a turn for the worse when a scan picked up something on the top of her spine. There had been a tumour in her brain the whole time.
Chemo hit hard
“In November 2016, Heidi started treatment again,” said Shelley, “but - although it seemed to be working - this time the chemo hit her hard. In June 2017, Heidi was referred to Keech for the second time. The nurses at the hospice were amazing.” The care team worked quickly to adjust her medicines so her symptoms were soon under control, and Heidi was immediately more comfortable.
Heidi had to go back into hospital as the cancer progressed and it reached a point where there was nothing more they could do for her. So Heidi came back to Keech for a third and last time.
“Mum and I had to give her the bad news when she woke up,” Shelley remembered. “She said OK, I need to get everything sorted, write my Will, and then go back to getting better. Heidi would never give in to anything.
“We celebrated her birthday at Keech and it was lovely. Everybody came and we had the best time.”
Not long after, Heidi went home, where she died on 25 August 2017.
A world of difference
But Keech Hospice Care was still there to support the family, as Shelley explained: “I had a letter from Keech saying, if we needed anything, they were there for us as a family and I contacted them a few months after Heidi died.
“The difference Keech’s bereavement support has made is just amazing. Heidi had been like a second mum to my girls - Grace, 14, and Ava, 10 - and it has been so hard for them to lose her. Ava was crying all the time. Grace was holding back because she didn’t want to make me upset.
“Keech’s family support workers made all the difference in the world to Grace and Ava - somehow Steve just gets Grace and she can talk to him about anything. My brother Kieran went to Steve – just the once because I think that’s all he felt he needed. My mum also goes to a Keech support group once a month and sees Steve, too.
“I first spoke to another of the family support workers, Ela, while Heidi was alive and speaking to her now really helps me talk about how I feel. I’m a bit like Heidi - I always want to look after everybody else but I know I need to deal with my own feelings, too. I’m like Grace as well in that I won’t always talk to my mum as I know she’s going through her own grief.
“It makes such a difference to speak to someone who isn’t involved so you’re able to say exactly how you feel without upsetting them. It’s my time to let go.”