As the door to Thorpe Hall Hospice closed behind her and Linda Formolli climbed into the car, she turned to husband John and said "When my time comes, that’s where I want to be".
Linda and her husband John had just visited Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough for the first time. They’d spoken to staff, toured the facilities and met volunteers. And they were both confident the hospice could provide exactly the right level of care for Linda at the end of her life.
“I tend to put things in boxes in my mind and it was easy to do that with Linda’s cancer," recalls John. "She was so positive and just got on with things that most of the time you wouldn’t know she was ill. Once Linda had made the decision that Thorpe Hall was where she wanted to die, we didn’t have to think about it and could concentrate on getting on with the life she had.
“We’d met at a party when Linda was 15. A friend of mine became rather too familiar with Linda and she walloped him. I thought ‘That’s the kind of girl I could end up with’.
“We married five years later, and had three children, James, Claire and Bernadette. I worked long hours in the police force but valued family time. We had two holidays every year – a week at Whitsun and two weeks in the summer. Linda brought the children up but we were always very close as a family.
"We did everything together"
“When I retired, we decided we wanted a quieter life than we had in London. We came up with the idea of driving two hours from our home near the Dartford Tunnel - far enough to leave the traffic and the busy-ness of London, but near enough for friends to visit and us to make trips back.
“We found a new build house in Elm, near Wisbech, that the builders were happy to add our own touches to. Of course we were nervous about moving, but we talked it over and knew it was the right thing to do.
“Once we moved, we were never in. We did everything together – we went to the theatre in London at least once a month, we enjoyed shopping, friends and family would often come to stay, and we enjoyed eating out. Our children had children – Linda was a doting granny. We joined the U3A and a luncheon club, we had a great life and were so close. Linda was a fantastic judge of character, a real people person. I’ve gone through thousands of photos and there isn’t one where she isn’t smiling.
“Just before Christmas 2012, Linda was diagnosed with endometrial cancer – cancer of the lining of the womb. She was 68. There was good news and bad. The cancer was aggressive but it had been caught early and was still at stage one. Linda had a hysterectomy via keyhole surgery and we were told there was a 95% chance it wouldn’t come back.
“We were able to put it behind us and carry on with enjoying life. But, a year later, Linda started feeling poorly. She had tummy troubles and was in some pain. We convinced ourselves it was irritable bowel syndrome so weren’t prepared for the test results. Not only was the cancer back; we were told there was no cure. I burst into tears.
"Linda was very practical and asked if there was anything they could do to extend her life.
“She had six sessions of chemotherapy. She shaved her hair off before it fell out. We went to Brighton to buy her a wig. She preferred the synthetic ones to the real hair ones – she said they were easier to look after than real hair!
“You’d never have known she was ill. She never complained so it was easy to just ignore it and get on with life. After six months of being symptom free, another six months of chemotherapy appeared to keep the cancer at bay. We knew she was on borrowed time and Linda wanted to do what she could to make plans.
“That’s when we visited Thorpe Hall. We were shown around and made to feel so welcome. By the time we left, Linda had decided it was the right place for her to spend her final days. By knowing things were in place, she was able to then forget about it and make the most of the time she had left.
Making the most of our remaining time together
“We booked a month-long holiday to Canada to spend Christmas with our daughter Bernadette and her family. Of course we couldn’t get insurance, but we wanted that family time together – we knew it may not happen again. Just before we were due to fly out, Linda started to feel poorly.
“She knew the cancer was back and was sure it was more severe, but she was determined we were going. We got there and spent a wonderful white Christmas with the family, but then Linda started to really struggle. She was very low physically and mentally, and we flew back early.
“The doctors offered her a different type of chemotherapy but after two sessions showed no improvement, she called a halt to it. She started to get weaker but still she put on a brave face, especially when she was talking to the family. I’d know she was having a bad day if we went to Sainsbury's and she asked for a wheelchair. By March, Linda was having trouble getting upstairs, and then even getting out of bed or getting dressed became difficult. Our doctor talked about us having carers coming in to help. That’s when Linda said it was time for her to go to Thorpe Hall.
“The ambulance came and they carried her downstairs and out into the ambulance to drive her to Thorpe Hall. She said when she got there that she hadn’t said goodbye to her house – she knew she wasn’t going back.
Compassion and care
“With the responsibility for caring for Linda lifted, I was able to spend time with her as her husband. There was nothing wrong with her mind, and we talked and talked for hours. We talked about her funeral and she chose the songs she wanted played – Somewhere Over The Rainbow
by Eva Cassidy and Wind Beneath My Wings
by Bette Midler. The children visited regularly and so did our friends.
“Linda was so well looked after; she was never uncomfortable. It wasn’t just the nurses who were caring, all the staff were. The volunteers too – they just demonstrated so much compassion and care. It was just outstanding, everything Linda had thought it would be during that first visit it was.
“Linda had been there about a week and it was approaching the bank holiday weekend. She was very poorly and was asleep a lot. She turned to me and said she just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up. And that’s just what happened. She closed her eyes and slept until she died in the early hours of Bank Holiday Monday morning.
“Linda was cremated in a green and cream wicker coffin – it was very her, very extrovert, just as she would have wanted it to be.”
John is now keen to help spread the word of Thorpe Hall to encourage others to support the Sue Ryder hospice. “I honestly don’t believe you could find a better place for someone in their final days,” said John. “It was just exceptional in every way.”
Find out more about Thorpe Hall Hospice