My wife Rachel died on 20th August 2014 in Sobell House. She was 50 years old and spent the last two weeks of her life at Sobell House after eleven years of living with cancer, the last seven of these knowing that she would die.
In her last days she was lovingly and professionally cared for by the staff and was able to live and die with dignity. One of the things that makes this so impressive is that Rachel was very scared of dying and found it really difficult to talk about. In her last couple of years she was offered meetings with counsellors and therapists at Sobell but would always ask for these meetings to be held elsewhere as she could not contemplate being in the place where she might eventually die.
It had been clear for a while that Rachel had only a few months left to live. She understood and accepted her fate but her way of coping had always been to live as normal a life as possible. Indeed she was still working at the beginning of July. We managed a last family holiday in Dorset at the end of July but she was becoming increasingly ill and uncomfortable. On our return we went to visit one of the consultants at Sobell. It was our first real consultation there and one of the things that set it apart from many of the stressful visits to cancer clinics over the previous years was the space and time we were given. No long wait to be called in and plenty of time to have a full examination and ask questions afterwards. This relaxed and friendly approach characterised the approach of all the staff we encountered.
Despite various treatments, within less than a week Rachel was offered a bed at Sobell House to relieve her symptoms. At this time it was hoped that she would return home again when she was feeling more comfortable. As it transpired Rachel did not return home again as she steadily deteriorated. However she was undoubtedly happier there and it gave me some much needed respite from caring for her round the clock.
We have three boys who were aged 19, 17 and 13 at the time. Whilst Rachel was in hospital our two eldest sons were awaiting exam results. Both the nursing staff and the doctors took a real interest in this and it was great that they made time to discuss our lives outside and take an interest in our children. The boys were made to feel welcome when they visited.
During her stay we had lots of other conversations about everyday topics, holidays, interests and memories with the staff. This helped us both relax and not focus all the time on what was happening. The doctors were very straightforward in their approach, spending time with Rachel to find out how they could make her more comfortable. They were sensitive to her need not to know her immediate prognosis, whilst happy to talk to me alone in more detail, with Rachel’s permission of course.
One of the highlights of each day there was Rachel’s evening bath. An opportunity to relax in the huge bath filled with warm water and bubble bath. I was keen to bathe her and the staff were happy to teach me how to use the bath and for the first week they left me to it. This enabled us to have some relaxed and private moments together to chat, catch up and have a laugh. As Rachel’s mobility became more difficult the nurses were happy to give me more help getting her in and out safely. This was done unobtrusively and without fuss and then as soon as she was comfortably in the bath, we were left alone until we needed further help. I was pretty exhausted by this time and the fact that help was offered in such a supportive but gentle way made a big difference to me.
When Rachel died I felt a sense of relief that she had managed to achieve the thing she had been so scared of. I also felt that the loving support and care that she had been given had made this easier for her. She built up great relationships with the staff who had taken the trouble to get to know her as a person and she trusted them completely. I will always be grateful for this and for the continuing support I have received in the form of bereavement counselling at Sobell House.