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Karen's Story - Light Up a Life 2021

Monday 20th December

  • Stories
  • Appeals

Christmas can be a difficult time for those of us who have lost someone special

Remembering a loved one and donating to the Light up a Life appeal helps us to provide care and support for anyone affected by a life-limiting illness or bereavement.

People like Karen Matthams. Karen is 50-years old, and has incurable secondary breast cancer and metastatic spread, she was referred to Farleigh in January 2020. Karen uses the full range of support services offered by Farleigh Hospice. A patient of the South Care Team, in addition to clinical care, she receives counselling, spiritual care and attends regular physiotherapy sessions at the Farleigh gym. Karen’s daughter uses the Yo-Yo counselling service for children and young people. Here Karen shares how valuable the support Farleigh Hospice has provided has been to her and her family:

“Farleigh was there for me from the point of diagnosis and they just took control which was so helpful. Their support felt like having a comfort blanket wrapped around me. Knowing that they were there for me and my family made me feel calmer in those first weeks. It gives me peace and comfort knowing that they will continue to be there for my family when my time comes.

“It’s the little details that Farleigh pays attention to that have made a huge difference to my everyday life. They really do go the extra mile and I am so appreciative of everything Farleigh does. The whole team is just great, from my nurses to the counsellors and the spiritual care team. Finding out your time is limited is very frightening, for you and those close to you. Farleigh Hospice have helped me, and my daughter, my sister, and even my mum deal with things.

“With Farleigh’s help my family are trying to accept my diagnosis and we’re able to talk about it openly and honestly, which is very important to me. When you are in this situation, your thoughts of things you need to take care of and things you want to do during the time you have left, can completely overwhelm you. When everything gets on top of me I know I can call my Farleigh care team and they will come around and work through everything with me, and help me tackle the ‘to do’ list in my head, taking the stress away. It’s hard to explain but they just pick you up and make you feel more able to cope.

“Knowing that my daughter has support from the Yo-Yo bereavement team is helping me to come to terms with leaving her. Her relationship with her Yo-Yo counsellor is really strong and it is so comforting for me to know that she has someone that she can talk to outside of the family. I honestly can’t thank Farleigh Hospice enough for their support. I’m not sure I could have gotten through this without them.”

Karen’s care team helped take care of essential administration to help make her easier. Things like obtaining a blue badge, personal independent payments and advising on what financial assistance she was entitled to. Karen says these administrative tasks where just “taken care of” by her locality team meaning that she did not have the added stress of worrying about finances, researching who to contact, making calls or completing application forms and other paperwork.

Virtual support during lockdown

Lockdown was especially hard for Karen as it hit just she was diagnosed. Karen and her daughter benefitted from the fact that Farleigh was able to offer its all of its services virtually during this time. The family found that the virtual counselling services were invaluable as it meant Karen and her daughter could continue therapy to help them both come to terms with what was happening. The nurses were also on hand 24/7 to help with pain management and acted as an intermediary between her and her GP/oncology nurses with regards to prescribing medicines to help alleviate side effects.

Farleigh also put the family in touch with the David Randall Foundation which provides good days to people with life-limiting illnesses and their families. With the support of the foundation, Karen and her daughter got to spend quality time together undertaking fun virtual activities during lockdown.

On Farleigh’s recommendation, Karen attended one of the virtual Macmillan HOPE courses which she found to be a great source of support. She says: “It was so good to be able to interact with people in a similar situation to me. Each week we tackled a certain issue or task. It was a safe space for us all to say how we were feeling. The course really helped me feel less isolated during that time. It can be a lonely place having a diagnosis like mine, especially during a pandemic! Even though you have lots of people around you who want to help and support you, they don’t really understand how you’re feeling in the same way that people in similar circumstances do. Talking to others who are going through what you are going through really helps. If there was one thing I wish I could do more of, it’s group sessions.”

As soon as it was safe for them to do so, Karen’s support team came and visited her in the garden which she found really valuable.

Farleigh’s gym services have helped Karen improve her muscle strength and boosted her confidence. When she was first diagnosed, she was in a wheelchair, with the help of her nursing team and her physiotherapist she has been able to replace the wheelchair with a walking stick. This has meant that Karen can go out for walks around the block which she says has given her back her confidence, making a huge difference to her quality of life.

Dealing with difficult decisions

Recently, Farleigh organised a visit to the inpatient unit (IPU) for Karen and her daughter to help them both make the difficult decision about end of life care. It helped them to decide what they wanted in relation to at-home or in-hospice care and helped to alleviate some of their anxiety about what will happen when that time comes.

Farleigh’s spiritual care services have been especially useful to Karen in coming to terms with her diagnosis. She says: “I wasn’t particularly religious before, but once I was diagnosed I began to think about my spirituality more. I have really benefitted from the support of Farleigh’s Spiritual Lead, Susanna Offor. Without Susanna’s support, I really don’t know how I’d have gotten through this. Just one example of how she has helped me is that recently I had a lot of anxiety about what I wanted to happen after death. Susanna helped me through it, and even came with me, my daughter and my mum to look at possible resting place options which really helped to ease my worry about making that decision.”

Fundraising for Farleigh’s future

Following her diagnosis, Karen’s wish was to live to see her 50th birthday and see her daughter turn 18. She celebrated her 50th birthday in May and as part of her birthday celebrations, Karen created a Facebook birthday fundraiser in aid of the hospice. She asked for donations instead of birthday gifts, raising more than £1,800. Karen says “I am so appreciative of everything Farleigh does and I just really wanted to be able to give something back.”

The money Karen has raised, along with your kind donation to our appeal will help us to continue to support people like Karen for many years to come.

We will be holding 10 Light Up a Life remembrance services across Chelmsford, Maldon, Braintree and the surrounding villages from the end of November to mid-December. For a full list of services, to make a donation, and to share your memory visit