Michelle Fairman, 54 from Shotgate (Wickford), tells us how St. Luke’s Hospice has supported her and her husband, Steve, after Michelle was diagnosed with secondary cancer in August 2020. Her pain was severe and affected her mobility. Upon receiving support from St. Luke’s Hospice services both Michelle and Steve were surprised by all of the various services available for them.

“I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what.

“It all started back in 2015 when I started to experience occasional unexpected bleeding, which over time came to be almost every day. I never knew when it was going to happen and that was a really horrible feeling. I’d get dressed up to go out for an evening or be out doing my rounds in my job as a postal worker and it would happen suddenly without warning. The only place I felt comfortable was at home. I couldn’t live a normal life.

“I went to my GP and they began the process of working out what was wrong. At first they thought it was fibroids, and then they said that it could have been polyps. The GP suggested various forms of contraception in case that helped. Nothing I tried stopped the bleeding.

“After much back and forth with my GP, I privately paid for MRI scan and that’s when they discovered the tumour. I was diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer. Although I hadn’t felt right for some time, it was still a shock to hear those words “I was immediately referred to hospital and began treatment, including courses of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy. The treatment was working and the bleeding finally stopped. I got the all-clear in May 2020 – five years after my original diagnosis.

“Around the same time, I had started noticing a pain in my back. I brushed it off at first, thinking it must just be general wear and tear or just down to age. I’d returned to work after my first diagnosis, so maybe it could be something I’d done at work. When the pain got worse and spread to my leg, I went back to see my GP, who initially said it could be sciatica. I had appointments with specialists, including a physio and a chiropractor, but the pain in my back and my leg got worse still. The pain would wake me up in the night and it got so bad that I could no longer work. Even getting dressed in the morning was becoming difficult.

“I couldn’t stand the pain any longer and again I privately paid for another MRI scan in August 2020. Just a few months after receiving the all-clear, I was told that I had secondary cancer. There was a tumour on my spine, most likely caused by a rogue cell from the first cancer.

“One of the nurses at the hospital gave me contact details for St. Luke’s Hospice and suggested getting in touch. I thought to myself, ‘This is it…’ and I felt worried. I didn’t have any personal experience of hospices, but in my mind at the time they were just about end of life care – that surely wasn’t for me.

“It wasn’t until about a year ago that St. Luke’s Hospice came back into the picture. My mobility was deteriorating and I was struggling to move about sometimes due to the pain. One day my husband, Steve, was talking to a friend at work. She explained how the teams at St. Luke’s Hospice were supporting her mum and suggested that they might be able to help me too.

“I’m not a particularly confident person and I was nervous about making the call to the Hospice myself. In the end Steve made the call for me and we’re both so glad that he did. Once you start talking to someone at the Hospice, they make you feel really at ease – they were so lovely and helpful. In that first conversation, we realised that there is so much more to hospice care than we first thought.

“The team at the Hospice arranged for me to start a course of acupuncture to help with the pain in my leg and I also had reflexology. I really enjoyed the sessions. They made me feel so relaxed and helped me sleep better. The sessions created a space that was just for me and a therapist, where I didn’t have to think or worry about anything else.

“During one of the sessions, the therapist suggested that her colleagues might be able to help with equipment to assist with my mobility too. After speaking to the team, they sorted me out with a walker and I was assessed by a physiotherapist, who shared some useful exercises with me.

“I attended a specialist Lymphoedema clinic at the Hospice where the nurse measured me up for a compression stocking and showed me different massage techniques for my leg. Steve massages me every night using the techniques we were shown by the nurse at the clinic and they really help.

“The support that the Hospice provides isn’t just for me. Steve has been supported greatly by the Carers Support team. They’re just at the end of a phone if there’s anything he needs or if he has any questions. Steve was invited to a special Afternoon Tea for carers at the Hospice in June this year. It was so useful for him to have an opportunity to chat with other carers who are in the same boat. It’s easy to get caught up in appointments, medication and helping me, so it’s really important that Steve has time for himself too and the Hospice is able to give him that space.

“St. Luke’s Hospice provides such a good service for local people and their families. Everyone at the Hospice is lovely and they do such a brilliant job. They’re happy to listen and can help with almost anything and everything. You can ask a question and even if the person you ask doesn’t know the answer, they’ll go away and find out for you. If the team thinks there’s something else that could benefit you, they won’t hesitate to suggest it and put you in touch with the right people. You might come to the Hospice originally for an appointment or a treatment, but the teams also make time for a cup of tea and a chat if that’s what you need.

“I feel like I’m just a small pebble in a huge pond of people that St. Luke’s Hospice supports, but regardless of the growing number of people who need help, they always make me feel so important and comfortable – dealing with my needs with professionalism, dedication and empathy.

“Before we reached out to the Hospice, Steve and I didn’t realise the diversity of the services and support that St. Luke’s Hospice provides. I never thought of things like physiotherapy or complementary therapy being available at the Hospice. I can go to the Hospice to attend my sessions and then come home feeling much more relaxed and carry on living my life. There’s nothing to be scared of and I would say to anyone who might need support from the Hospice to make that call. I’m so glad we did.”

It is thanks to the generosity of the local community and supporters that we are able to continue providing specialist palliative and end of life care and integrated support services to local people, like Michelle and Steve.