Mark from Withleigh, near Tiverton, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer in April 2019 and underwent multiple surgeries to try and halt the cancer. Sadly, these were unsuccessful and in December 2019, Mark was rushed to hospital after collapsing at home. He was in a great deal of pain and was having difficulty breathing.
Mark remained in hospital until Christmas Eve. Mark’s wife, Cathy, explains “Mark had pneumonia and other infections that they were trying to help with but the biggest problem was his pain. It was out of control.
“The hospital staff asked Dr Becky from Hospiscare to come and see Mark and they decided that the best thing was to admit him to the ward at Hospiscare. This all happened on Christmas Eve. It was a real shock to all of us. When someone says ‘the hospice’, you instantly think that’s it.
“We were very fortunate to be given the family room when we arrived on Christmas Eve. Everyone was so kind.
“The staff told us they could organise a Christmas lunch and that we could have all the family down, even our dog! In the circumstances, we had a lovely last Christmas there with the whole family able to stay with Mark until 9pm. It was something we hadn’t expected and we would never have been able to have Christmas like that if Mark were still in hospital.
“I went into the hospice with Mark on Christmas Eve completely shattered after driving to and from the hospital throughout December. I was on my knees and being able to stay in the hospice with Mark was comforting and also respite for me. It helped me to get my head around things and I was really grateful for that – the staff were absolutely amazing. Nothing was ever too much.
“I stayed with Mark the whole 10 days that he was on the ward at Hospiscare. Our family and friends were able to visit and the family room had doors that opened onto the garden, so even though Mark was mostly bed-bound by this point, he could still enjoy the garden.”
Will adds, “We had hoped to have Christmas at home with Dad so when they moved him to the hospice on Christmas Eve, we thought it was going to be the worst Christmas ever. Everything the hospice did for us all made it special. We could take our dog to visit Dad and my sister Hannah and her husband Henry were able to visit with their baby daughter, Martha. The staff laid up a table for us and we had a lovely Christmas lunch together.”
After this time on our specialist ward, Mark was able to return home. Cathy says, “Hospiscare had set up a really good pain management plan and he was more comfortable and without all of the horrible side effects of the medication he was on before. The hospice was able to balance his pain, which was amazing.
“There were two things Mark wanted to do when he came home: drive his old classic Land Rover and try out the new ride-on lawn mower that he’d bought for me. He managed to drive his Land Rover across the yard and mow the lawn, in January! Without Hospiscare, he never would have been able to fulfil those last two wishes, daft as they were!
“By the middle of January, the cancer had spread further and he was very poorly. Our granddaughter, Martha, was going to be christened but Mark was just too poorly to go. We spoke to the vicar and asked her to postpone the christening and she offered to christen Martha at home.
“The community nursing team from Hospiscare’s Pine Lodge visited regularly to help with everything and one of the nurses, Becky, helped me get Mark dressed into a smart shirt and trousers and he was able to see Martha christened.
“The community nurses helped us with everything and organised applying for personal independent care and a blue badge for parking. Whatever was needed, they sorted it. Suddenly, they would just be there. This continued until 4 February when Mark died. He was too young to go. He would have been 54 in April.
“I will always be indebted to Hospiscare for enabling us to have a family Christmas and for making Mark as pain-free as possible so that he could come home.”
Cathy and Will wanted to do something to give back to Hospiscare. Before Mark was admitted to the hospice, Will signed up to the Outlaw Triathlon, knowing that he wanted to raise money for his dad. Will explains, “At first, I thought I would raise money for a cancer charity, but after everything that happened over Christmas, I had to do it in aid of Hospiscare. They had done so much for us.
“The event was due to take place in July 2020 but it was postponed to the following July due to the pandemic. By the time July 2021 came around, I was busy with exams so I postponed it until September 2021.
“It was my first triathlon. I got into cycling a little while ago but needed to ramp up my running to train. I live near an outdoor pool so I did a reasonable amount of swimming a few months prior to the event but I’d never done each of the disciplines one after another before.
“It was a chilly start on the day. We kicked off with a 1.2 mile swim, followed by a 56 mile bike ride and finished with a 13.1 mile run. My goal was just to complete it but I managed to do it in five and half hours which is a good time! I got to the half way point and I just knew I had to complete it.
“My mum, auntie and girlfriend, Jess, all travelled to Wiltshire to watch me complete the event.
“I say to everyone that I loved it and I would definitely do it again, maybe not tomorrow, but I’d definitely sign up for another – it was an incredible feeling!
“I set myself a fundraising target of £1,500 and hoped that I would be able to get somewhere close. Everyone’s donations were extremely generous, which meant that I was able to raise over double my target and donate £3,065 to Hospiscare.
“People said to me beforehand, ‘You’re doing a half Ironman as your first event, don’t you want to try something smaller?’ I said, ‘When Dad was first diagnosed, you don’t get a first shot at fighting cancer. You face that head-on.’ Facing the triathlon head-on was my way of honouring that.
“Dad wasn’t sporty at all – he enjoyed watching sports, but I don’t think I’d ever seen him go for a run! He always came to watch me and my sister at sports events and I know he would have been right there cheering me on.”
To find out more about taking on a challenge for Hospiscare, click here.