Carol's story: St John’s Hospice has helped me survive

Carol Gould has had a distinguished and illustrious career as a writer, broadcaster, producer and filmmaker. Carol’s life changed dramatically in 2006 when she was misdiagnosed with breast cancer and underwent unnecessary surgery as a result. Not long after the surgery Carol did, in fact, develop breast cancer. Now, nearly 15 years later, St John’s Hospice plays a vital role in her support system. Here is Carol’s story.

Due to complications from a breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgery, I developed a stage 3 tumour in 2009.  I elected to have radiotherapy rather than chemotherapy after my diagnosis and the cancer went into remission. I was clear for six and a half years until it came back in 2016 and I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. I’ve been undergoing immunotherapy and chemotherapy at the Royal Marsden Hospital in the four years since. For 18 months I was on a trial drug called Neratinib which cured my diabetes and an international study is now being pursued.

My relationship with St John’s Hospice began in 2010, when I started receiving lymphoedema care – so I’ve been going to the clinic there for the last ten years. Because my cancer is now stage 4, the Marsden registered me as a member of the Day Care Unit, which I started attending about a year and a half ago. Every day they provide a lovely lunch for the outpatients who attend the Day Care Unit but live at home. They also offer complementary therapies like Reiki – which I’d never had before, but really enjoy – as well as reflexology, massage therapy and more recently acupuncture. It’s been wonderful; I used to go on once a week but lately it’s been twice a week, because as Peter Hume (Hospice Day Care Unit Deputy Manager) knows, I’ve been in agony from the most recent chemo.

In recent months it has been wonderful to go to the Hospice for some company and some complementary therapies. Up until the latest lockdown we were able to go in as long as it was all socially distanced which, of course, the Hospice staff have been amazing in implementing. It’s still lovely going there and being around other people and seeing the likes of Peter, Sue, Maria and – in more normal times – all the amazing staff and volunteers. The volunteers are a tremendous part of what makes the Hospice such a special place – all the people you see there are just so loving and caring.

The Hospice has offered to refer me to a district nurse if I need one, but what I particularly love is that when I need to go to the Hospice they come and pick me up and bring me home afterwards. That makes a huge difference to someone like me who needs to be careful when going out and being around other people; knowing I don’t need to get on public transport is a huge relief. It’s the Hospice ambulance drivers mostly but occasionally they’ll send a mini-cab. The Hospice have always been so wonderful about arranging my transportation.

Even though we haven’t been able to have our daily lunches in the Hospice – where sometimes there would be up to 20 people eating together –  a few of us, around 5 people, have been able to go in and have a nice sandwich, just to have a little catch-up. We were even still able to have reflexology and acupuncture up until 18th December, but that’s had to stop in light of the latest lockdown. It’s a great shame but I applaud them for continuing in the ways that they can.

One thing they’ve been able to continue is the Befriender Service, which is a curiously British thing – I asked my American friends and family who had never heard of it. I was given a befriender last year from the Octavia Charity, and more recently Peter Hume put me in touch with a befriender from St John’s Hospice called Nadya. She’s a lovely, caring woman who volunteers at the Hospice under usual circumstances, and she phones me once or twice a week. Before the most recent lockdown we were able to go out for a coffee together, but it’s nice to be able to talk on the phone with her during lockdown – I’m American and we love to talk. 2020 was a hard year, being alone for long periods of time and still being treated for stage 4 cancer, to then be alone on Christmas Day was very, very hard. Robert Moroney, formerly of the Hospice, used to host a tea on Christmas Day to watch the Queen’s Speech – but sadly that couldn’t happen this year. I was lonely on Christmas Day – and I’m sure that’s true of millions of people – but I have enjoyed hearing from family, friends and my Hospice befriender Nadya.

St John’s Hospice has helped me survive – not just shielding from COVID, but my four years of horrendous cancer and chemotherapy. I don’t think I could have done it without them.

Our palliative care is provided free to our patients but we cannot do this without your help. If you would like to support our Hospice head to our donation page to see how even a little can go a long way. Thank you.

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