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10th September 2021

A sprinkle of love and a dash of laughter

After doctors told her to gather her family together to say goodbye, Julie Newton was determined not to spend her last days in hospital.

Now, after two months at The Hospice, Julie surprised everyone by baking cookies for the nursing team, assisted by occupational therapist (OT) Sally (pictured with Julie) in the rehabilitation room at the hospice.

Sally and Julie

“The recipe is one of these things I make up when I do it,” says Julie from her room overlooking the garden at the hospice. 

“It's a bit of trial and error like any recipe, a bit of this, a bit of that. You follow the recipe, and then you think it might be nice if I add this or that. I tend to put more brown sugar in it so it's chewier, and maybe a bit of mix spice.

“It was a little tiring to do and I wasn't quite sure how it was going to work. Sally helped me and when I found out she is an OT and not a chef, I relaxed and we had a bit of a giggle. It was funny because at the end we were sitting there like in Bake Off just watching them through the oven door - you must not over-cook a cookie!

“I'm starting on my rock cakes recipe now because they're really easy to make. The other thing that I do, is a really good fruitcake and that really has been my recipe over the years. But that is a cake and I don’t know how far that would go with the nurses!

Julie was admitted to the hospice in early July when her primary peritoneal cancer worsened. She had been planning with Paul, her husband, to go away for a break in their caravan when they heard the news that campsites were going to reopen after lockdown. Due to Julie’s condition, her stomach swells up and her consultant suggested a hospital appointment to have her stomach drained to make her more comfortable for a few weeks so she could enjoy her holiday. But once there, it became obvious the cancer was causing more problems. Julie explains:

“When I was in the hospital, the doctors thought I was so bad that I was allowed all my family to come in together as a special one off visit. I said to the doctor ‘I'm not leaving here, am I?’ So that's why I asked them to contact St Helena Hospice to see if there was a bed. I really wanted to be here; they never thought I would be here this long.

“I'd been involved with St Helena Hospice since last December having day therapies and complementary therapy treatments, which were marvellous, and I knew from having breast cancer about 14 years ago, that this isn't just a place to come and die. Hospices are wonderful places rather than scary places.

“So I said about coming in here because I really thought I wasn't going anywhere, and luckily I got a bed.”

Patients and visitors may now have a different experience of the hospice compared with pre-lockdown, but the team still makes it as homely as it can safely be. Distancing rules means Julie can spread out across her newly decorated room, to her delight. She enjoys her bunches of (quarantined) sunflowers, and her family of soft toys sits neatly on a chair to keep her company before her permitted one daily visitor.

“When Paul first walked round to my room wearing the PPE, I cracked up laughing, it was so funny," recalls Julie. “Although I didn't realise how much I lip read, now people are wearing masks.

“The visiting is hard, very hard, because it's just one person once a day, and we have to ration it to my husband, my son and my daughter. I am grateful I'm having visitors though because just before I came in, there was no visiting at all.

“We are living in a strange time. When lockdown happened, we thought, alright, lockdown has happened but we can still try to enjoy life together as much as we can. We still went out for walks. I wasn't prepared for the last few months of my life to be just sitting in my bedroom, waiting for my husband to knock on the door with a plate of food because we weren't even supposed to be in the same room with each other. I was not prepared to do that in my last few weeks.

“I was still walking 10 miles in a day about three times a week. I wasn't seeing anyone. I wasn't doing anything in particular but we just carried on doing as much as we possibly could. It was very hard because I couldn't see my son or my daughter, only on Zoom. It was cruel but we got through that. And then the bubble came into force so at least we could see my son.”

She recalls a precious pre-pandemic weekend spent with the family in Canterbury which was a gift from her boss at the air conditioning company she worked at, and where she was due to take early retirement from her job as office manager before the cancer worsened.

Julie points to a photo of her son and daughter proudly displayed on the windowsill in her room, and says:

“From small beginnings, they have both done amazingly well. I’m very proud, completely. As a mum, you never stopped worrying about them, but they’re amazing. I'm pleased and happy and delighted that I can leave this world knowing that they've both got their own place, so that's really lovely. I am leaving this earth early, however I've got no regrets. I can look over there at the photo of my family and be in complete happiness.”

As well as experiencing day therapies earlier this year, Julie was regularly visited at home by her community clinical nurse specialist, Di Turner.

“She was amazing, a life-line to me, really was. She was like a breath of fresh air when she walked in the door. But then Covid hit and everything changed.

“But I knew what this place was like, I knew how wonderful people are here, and I knew it wasn't just for the last few days of life.”

Despite the restrictions, Julie is making the most of the tranquillity at the hospice, in between her physiotherapy cycling machine sessions. She reflects:

“The gardeners are back in now and I enjoy watching them all sitting down and writing their notes, who has got what job to do I suppose, so that was nice to see. I do walk all the way around outside just to see, just to smell, to see what's happening, and every day is something different. 

“Outside is nice because that's my thing; I love being outside and I love being in the woods, and we’re right by the woods here so I would not want to be anywhere else.

“So outside is all coming together, getting nice and tidy and everything. And inside, the people here, they're my friends, they're my family.

“And doing a little baking was a giggle; you've got to have a giggle, haven't you?”

This story may not be published elsewhere without express permission from St Helena Hospice.

Julie Newton

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