Emily and Gary’s Story
“I love Gary, even to this day. He was my husband, my best friend and we were meant to spend our whole lives together. But I was young and unprepared for how unfair life could be.”
In 2009, Gary was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Part of the information we were given talked about St Andrew’s Hospice, so we came to have a look around. I really wanted to care for Gary myself and didn’t see the hospice as a good fit for us at that time – he was only recently diagnosed and I thought we could do everything by ourselves. This was one of life’s hurdles and we would tackle it together, as we had done every other obstacle so far. But I didn’t envisage the devastating journey that was ahead of us, and how much support we would need.
After a year, Gary’s cancer had progressed and was very aggressive. He was so weak and unwell – whereas my Gary was so strong. It was really difficult to see the changes that were happening week after week. Gary had a big operation but the news wasn’t good and he essentially came home to die.
We had a bed set up in our front room and I gave up work to look after Gary. I was with him 24 hours a day and slept on the settee next to him. I had an amazing support network but it was awful and I was so scared – what would I do if I woke up and he had died overnight? It was overwhelming.
One day the district nurse asked me to reconsider the hospice. I was hesitant, but when I spoke with Gary, it turned out he really wanted to go there. He saw the hospice as a safe, calm and hopeful place. He wanted to live and knew that this was the best way to enjoy the rest of his life and our remaining time together, even though it would be shorter than we wanted.
We decided to come to St Andrew’s and the first thing they did was sort out his medication. The improvement over those first few days was incredible; he was able to eat and talk again, which allowed us to communicate at what was quite a scary and lonely time. We could connect and share jokes and just enjoy being together and knowing we were surrounded in love.
I describe the nurses as being like angels. I stayed with Gary all the time, just nipping home to shower. The nurses saw what we needed as a couple, and encouraged me to step away and take breaks, whilst also letting me care for him as I so desperately wanted to – they didn’t try to take over but guided me through the difficult times so I knew I wasn’t alone.
They allowed us to just love each other; forget about everything else that was going on – the syringe drivers, the other visitors, everything else – just forget about those and concentrate on loving each other. They knew that in a strange way, we needed to feel like our old selves and enjoy our remaining time together. I’ll always remember the day Gary fancied a kebab – I knew he wouldn’t eat it, but it was something we used to do as a treat, so I walked to the nearest takeaway and brought one in, and we chatted and smiled and knew we were together in love.
Gary’s last words were “I love you”.
After Gary died we sat and had a drink in his memory. The nurses knew it was the right thing for us to be doing and they made it happen for us.
Looking back, going to St Andrew’s Hospice was completely the right decision for us. They made everything easier so when Gary died he was surrounded by love and that’s all I could have hoped for.
There’s no way I would have got through it all without the hospice. All my preconceptions were completely changed and they were just amazing.