“I’m really happy that through John’s Tribute Fund, another family will have that same support”

John Downing, 79, was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer, in January 2019. As his health deteriorated earlier last year and lockdown began, John was able to spend his final days at home with his wife Anita, thanks to the support of nurses from Sue Ryder Palliative Care Hub South Oxfordshire.

In John’s memory, Anita has created an Incredible Memories Tribute Fund and has since raised more than £4,000 for our vital care.

Anita and John Downing
“I felt like we were really looked after. It was so reassuring.” (Credit: Peter Dench)

Expert care at home

At the beginning of last year, as his health worsened, John, a retired press photographer, required more support and nurses from Sue Ryder Palliative Care Hub South Oxfordshire visited him at home more frequently, even as the country went into tighter lockdown.

Anita, a professional pianist and music teacher, said: “If John had needed to go to hospital, it would have been horrendous. I would not have been able to visit him and spend the time with him that I did. I’m so grateful to the Sue Ryder team who kept coming during the lockdown despite all the extra measures they had to take.

“John was a very strong personality, strong mentally and very determined, and I think that helped him to stay relatively well. He had been fighting so much because he had been determined to hang on and it was only in the last few weeks that I noticed he was not able to fight it so much.

“I don’t think I realised what it would be like as John’s illness progressed. He really didn’t want to go into a hospital or hospice - he wanted to be at home.

“We were referred to Sue Ryder by the oncologist. To start with, they were just keeping in touch and he didn’t feel that he needed much help as he was still fairly active. As it got closer to Christmas, he got weaker and we started to see more and more of the Sue Ryder team. It started with fortnightly visits and regular phone calls, and they also advised us on John’s medication and an occupational therapist came out to us.

'Even small things can make a difference'

“There was a stage where he was still active and we needed a wheelchair to get him out a little bit. A wheelchair arrived and I felt like we were really looked after. If we mentioned something, it was really well explained to us or another service would be recommended. It was so reassuring.

Anita and John Downing

“I found that when the Sue Ryder team came to visit, they always made John more comfortable than he had been before they arrived. When John was still able to speak he would say to them, ‘I don’t know why you do this’, and they would say, ‘Even small things can make such a big difference’, and I felt that was very special.

"I was always quite relieved to see the Sue Ryder Nurses. They made everything a bit easier. They were doing three visits a day – morning, afternoon and evening – near the end and I was also given a number to call for support at night time. I just didn’t know what to expect with John’s illness. I remember when the nurses first suggested we should get him a special bed; I couldn’t believe it, but actually he needed it quite quickly. They just knew what they were doing.

An ideal way for friends and family to remember John

“I didn’t realise the range of services Sue Ryder provides, including the bereavement counselling. It’s reassuring for me to know it’s there because I probably will want to talk about things at some point in the future. I think I will find it harder when life returns to normal. Things are so strange at the moment.

“When I heard about the Incredible Memories Tribute Funds I thought it sounded like an ideal way for friends and family to remember John. I can’t imagine what we would have done without the support of the Sue Ryder Nurses and I’m really happy that through John’s Tribute Fund, another family will have that same support.

“I was just amazed at how kind and lovely everyone was. We were both just overwhelmed by that. I’m really pleased I set up a Fund, as it has raised more than £4,000 for Sue Ryder. I didn’t know what we would need or what could be done in that situation, but they were so lovely and just gave all the time.

“I have been doing a concert series for three years for charity and this year I was able to donate half the money to Sue Ryder. I’m really glad I could do that as it feels like giving back for everything that they gave us.”

Find out further information on Sue Ryder Palliative Care Hub South Oxfordshire, the expert palliative care they provide and ways you can help to support them

If you are struggling after a bereavement or supporting someone else, we have resources, qualified counsellors and a community of others with similar experiences to help you through your grief.

Celebrate the life of a loved one

An Incredible Memories Fund is a long-lasting way for you to remember someone special by sharing memories and photos, while raising crucial funds for Sue Ryder and doing something positive in their memory.