Our palliative care teams provide expert and compassionate care wherever people need it – whether in one of our hospices or in people’s own homes – allowing families to focus on being families again. Families like the Lunns. Here, as part of our summer appeal, Val Lunn recounts how, in the space of a year, she lost her husband and son – and how Sue Ryder supported her family through the toughest time of her life.
It all started with a telephone call from our son, Neil, while we were away. He had been to the doctor to check why he had pain in his ears and, a few check-ups and tests later, he found out it was not just a pain that would go away: he had lung and lymph cancer. I could not believe what I was hearing; he was only 47 years old.
The news turned our world upside down. He had 12 hours of chemotherapy, but this took a toll on him. Neil was a very active person – a character, without a doubt. When he became ill, he would come and sit on my bed and say to me: “I can’t die”. He would not let anyone cry. It was all very upsetting.
He had five visits to the hospital with serious infections. I visited him each time, but I could see they were struggling to give him the time, care and support that he needed as there were not enough nurses. Cancer patients need lots of care.
“You could not get better care than Sue Ryder”
After the last spell in hospital, I got in touch with Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice. They fast-tracked a hospital bed and provided a wheelchair. By the time Neil came out of hospital, we had a Sue Ryder community nurse coming out to see and support him, and everything was in place to care for him at home.
Neil went in to Wheatfields for a week to regulate his medication and the staff there were amazing. They welcomed us with open arms; their care and attention to both family and patients is out of this world. The nurses, doctors, kitchen and admin staff, all of them – you could not get better care.
When Neil became ill, he was scared. But he wasn’t scared at Wheatfields.
“The nurses made everything so simple”
Friends and family could visit at any time and I have no words to describe how well they cared for Neil, as well as me. Whatever we needed, day or night, we could have it there and then. This was very different to our experience in hospital where we had always had to wait.
Neil couldn’t believe how nice Gwyneth, the Sue Ryder Nurse, was. She made everything so simple. Neil originally had three carrier bags full of medication, and she cut all this down to just four or five packets. And she took the time to explain every little thing about his medications – especially how they’d make him feel.
Armed with his new meds, Neil came back home for a couple of days. One day, he asked me to cook his favourite dish – spaghetti bolognese. I remember that day vividly; we sat outside until late during a lovely day filled with laughter. It was Neil’s last day at home.
Early the next morning, a doctor came to see Neil at home and it was clear that he was fading away and needed to be in the hospice.
“When Neil passed away, the nurses lined up in the corridor”
The following day, all his friends and family came to see him at Wheatfields. The room was packed; it was as if everyone knew that they should come and see Neil while they could. The nurses were checking on us every 15 minutes to make sure Neil was comfortable and pain free. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff.
When Neil passed away and it was time to take his body away, all the nurses lined up in the corridor. That’s the most magnificent thing that’s ever happened to me; this gesture of respect really touched me.
I have nothing but praise for each and every member of staff at Sue Ryder; they really were there for us all 24/7 – either in person or at the other end of the phone. I feel that my son received the best possible care at Wheatfields. He was in safe hands.
“How could this happen again?”
Two weeks after Neil passed away, my beloved husband David went for routine tests at the doctors and an X-ray showed something in his lung. Following more tests and an intrusive biopsy, we were told – with no care or compassion – that there was a 95% chance that he had cancer in his lungs, lymph nodes, bones and spine.
It was such a huge blow. How could this happen again?
At least this time we knew what to do: we contacted Sue Ryder Wheatfields.
David was in a lot of pain but he immediately felt better when Sue Ryder Nurse Sarah visited us at home. Sarah tried absolutely everything to help alleviate his pain; she negotiated with the doctors, bringing one out twice to our home, and always fetched his medication from the chemist.
Both Sarah and Gwyneth, who later also cared for David, were prepared to come to our home at any time we needed, visiting us nearly every day. Had we needed either of them to come more often, they would have. They would ring beforehand to check in on how we were doing, and we knew that either they or another community nurse was always at the end of the phone.
“At Wheatfields, David immediately perked up”
After a few months of constant home support from myself and Sue Ryder, David’s pain was getting a lot worse. He was a very strong man, but he was losing his appetite and stopped eating as much as he used to.
On New Year’s Day, his health really took a turn for the worst. We knew he needed to go into Wheatfields Hospice so they sent an ambulance out straight away.
We got David settled into Wheatfields and, after a change in his medication, he perked up a bit and started to eat again.
He loved ice cream so the chef at Wheatfields always made sure there was plenty in case he wanted some. He particularly enjoyed having some party food for his New Year’s tea. They gave me some too but, while I was out of the room, he ate that too!
During his last few days, David couldn’t settle on his own – we had never spent a night apart until then – so I moved into his room with our Chihuahua JoJo. JoJo sat with David on his bed all the time and was a comfort for both of us; he sat and licked David’s hand.
“With the care of Sue Ryder, things improved ten-fold for David”
David was kept comfortable and all his family and friends came to visit as we were told it was not going to be long. The nurses and doctors came to check on him every 15 minutes to make sure he was not in pain.
The Wheatfields staff were, again, fantastic. With the care of Sue Ryder, things improved ten-fold for David. It was so comforting to be looked after and welcomed, and to know David spent his last days so happy in a home away from home.
Recently, we commemorated the anniversaries of Neil and David’s deaths. As we did last year, we visited the hospice to have cake with the Sue Ryder Nurses and let off helium balloons in memory of them. JoJo has also just completed his registration as a certified Pets as Therapy dog and he’ll be starting at Wheatfields soon.
“I can’t express how loving Sue Ryder are”
What can I say? I’ve had the hardest, saddest and most trying, upsetting year but, throughout it all, Sue Ryder has been the most amazing support for me and my family.
I preach about Sue Ryder to everyone I know. Our experience of their care has taken away my fear of dying.
I can’t even express in words how loving the Sue Ryder community and hospice staff are, and I will never be able to repay them for the amazing job they do every day in caring for people like me, my son and my husband. They are doing a hard job but they make you feel better about everything.
The support I felt has helped me through the toughest time of my life; even the hospice and grounds bring me calm and comfort when I visit.
Thank you to everyone at Wheatfields from the bottom of my heart. We had a lot of help from close friends, but we could not have done it without Sue Ryder. No way.
Help more families be families during difficult times
Sue Ryder couldn’t care for families like mine without the support of people like you. Please make a donation to their Summer Appeal.
Sue Ryder needs every penny and, if you donate, you know exactly where it’s going – whether that’s your local care centre or to help people across the UK.
Your kindness today will give more families like mine the support they need to be families again. Thank you.
Wife and mother of patients
Val's son Neil and husband David both received end of life care at home and in our Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice in Leeds.