Was a hospice right for me?
Sharon Stacey has a lovely smile, which is almost a trademark. It always seems to be there. When we met with Sharon and her husband Richard at the Health & Wellbeing Centre the Friday yoga session had just finished. She was greeted by fellow patients in reception who wanted to thank her for one piece of advice or another.
If you didn’t know, you could be forgiven for thinking Sharon was a member of staff. Perhaps because her profession as a clinical psychologist makes her so approachable and she likes to help. Or perhaps because at a glance she looks just like anyone else . After all, a serious or life-limiting illness isn’t always visible on the outside.
Yet in 2016 Sharon, 47, was diagnosed with neuro endocrine tumours. At the time she had already had part of her bowel removed but symptoms such as continued vomiting and serious mobility issues still plagued her and further tests revealed the tumours, which attack different organs in the body.
“It was such a shock. My mobility was poor and the vomiting seemed non-stop. My quality of life was miserable. It was impossible to join any sort of physical activity group. They took one look at my condition and concluded I was too high risk.
“The hospital suggested I try a hospice but, though I started my career working in a hospice, I felt it was inappropriate for me. Hospices were very different back then.
“Then my mother-in-law suggested a hospice day centre. They had one near their home that offered exercise classes. And that’s how we came to the Health & Wellbeing Centre.
“I thought I would rock up to keep-fit on a Wednesday and yoga on a Thursday, but our relationship with NLH has been so much more that I could ever have imagined.
“Some of my symptoms were very severe when I first arrived. I was vomiting up to 30 times a day. It made it impossible to join any sort of community group. Here, they just gave me a bucket and we carried on!
“I was gently steered towards symptom management first and I was educated about my medication and given an understanding of the changes that were happening to me. Louise Schofield has such expertise. She looked at different meds for nausea and the transformation was miraculous. The vomiting reduced to about twice a day.
“I was interested in mindfulness. My cancer is rare and complex but when I met Magnus, that didn’t faze him. He was relaxed and spoke to me in a language I understood. And he had time for us. To give us the full picture. Time is something very special that this place gives you, that the NHS can’t.”
Since walking through the front door at Barrowell Green, Sharon has tried many of the services. From physio, occupational and hypno therapy, to chair yoga and exercise classes, Reiki and acupuncture.
“I also love the creative classes like jewellery making and art therapy.” She added. Behind all the wellbeing services though, is high-level medical expertise, which underpins everything at the hospice.
“The Art Therapy with Christine was very powerful. I worked with clay to express my feelings about the loss of my profession. It left such a hole in my life. It was a wonderful way of working through those emotions and Christine was great to talk to.”
Richard, Sharon’s husband of 10 years, has been with her every step of her journey. The couple met at university and their shared interest in politics brought them together.
Richard, a surveyor, explains the holistic approach NLH takes with the whole family: “Our involvement with the hospice was the turning point. We were pretty down before that. They are here to support not only the patient but the family and carers too. I’ve been able to do classes with Sharon. That way we experience things together. My parents have even been able to get involved in carers classes.
“The hospice brings hope. Sharon wants to return to work and a normal life and the hospice supports us towards our goals. One step at a time.”
Speaking of steps, Sharon can now clock up many steps a day! “I’m really proud of myself. I started with small goals, like getting to the end of the street but now I can manage quite a distance. Some days are easier than others of course.
“I love the meditation classes, which put an emphasis on the environment so that you really notice your surroundings. I enjoy being in Epping Forest or Trent Park where you can hear the wind in the trees and the birds chirping.”
“At the outset I didn’t know what to expect. I know this journey is not a case of diagnosis, treatment and then it’s over. At some stage in the future I might be at the other end of hospice care. My journey may take me 20 years, I don’t know. But I do know the hospice model here will support me on that journey. I see a lot of older people who started their journey with the hospice when they were my age.”
The autumn has more treatment in store for Sharon but she already has her goal set for next year. “I want to ride a bike, which Richard has promised to buy me when I’m ready.
“It’s important to come to terms with my diagnosis and the hospice has helped me do that. It will support me when I go back to work too. It’s flexible in that way.
“Life goes on and you have to live it to the full while you can. This place reminds us how many good people there are in the world. You see such awful things on the news and then you come here, where people give their time and their kindness. It’s a real privilege to be on the receiving end of that kindness.”