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She trusted him and, importantly, he listened

Katie Suley loved sunflowers, walking along the Dovercourt seafront with her three year old daughter Arabella, and paddleboarding in Dedham.

Katie had been living with cancer in her duodenum and stomach, suspected during her pregnancy and confirmed after Arabella was born. 

After an operation her mum, Sophie moved in to look after them both but was soon diagnosed herself with breast cancer. The pair had chemotherapy at the same time, and while Sophie made a recovery after follow up radiotherapy, Katie developed secondaries despite further treatment and died a month after her 30th birthday earlier this year.

Now, sitting in the hospice holding hands with her own mum and Katie's nan, Sandra Shipp, who was diagnosed with lung cancer last summer, Sophie shares how St Helena has supported her family.

We were told in November that Katie’s cancer had spread and there wasn't really anything they could do other than keep her comfortable. We were advised to bring Christmas forward, which we did on 11th December, and her 30th birthday was to be on the 2nd January so we moved that to the 2nd December, so we did things back to front last year. She did get to her 30th and she passed on the 5th February.

We contacted St Helena really for symptom control. Katie did go into the hospice for about 10 days just to get her symptoms under control. When she came home, clinical nurse specialist Ross from SinglePoint visited and she absolutely took to him straight away, in fact we all did really, he's just got such a way about him. He is so calm and he makes you feel relaxed so that you can just say whatever you want to say. 

Katie trusted him and, importantly, he listened. She was quite adamant that she didn't want a syringe driver, she hated things hanging off her, so she didn't want the syringe driver for as long as possible. He really listened to everything she said and took that on board. 

Eventually, she was done. She'd fought for as long and as hard as she could, but she just hadn't got the energy to fight anymore. So we called SinglePoint and they arranged for the syringe driver to be put in, and that was done on the Saturday evening.

Image: Katie and her daughter Arabella

Arabella and mum Katie

Ross phoned and checked in with us and it was just lovely that St Helena looked after us as a family. It wasn't just Katie, it was always 'and how are you doing?' It was a very positive experience at a very sad time.

So we've got little Arabella. She'll be 4 in August, so from grandparents to parenting. A bit of a transition! She's coped really well, oh to be 3 and half! She's doing alright.

Katie was an avid Facebook poster about being a single mum and the struggles with that and she made people aware of what she was going through, both with the cancer journey and with being a single mum, and having to go through treatment whilst being a single mum. She helped to make other people feel a bit normal if they were having a bit of a bad day or struggling with their toddlers and different things. She was always so positive. There was always a bright side and it was always yep, we can do this.

A lady called Isabella contacted Katie and said that she'd been following her on Facebook. They've never met, never spoken, and she said she'd already written a children's story and she would like to write one for Katie and Bella, would that be OK? Katie at that point hadn't really got an awful lot of strength, she was starting to fade a little bit, so she just said to go through her Facebook, everything was there because she posted pretty much everything, and if Izzy had any questions then just to ask.  

So she wrote a story and her sister-in-law Teodora did the illustrations and they said that the profits are all for Arabella, for her future, which is so kind.

Katie did as much as she could for as long as she could, and she got quite a few things checked off her bucket list. She organised her own funeral, she chose her music. She wanted everybody to glam up because she loved a good party, she loved getting dressed up and getting her face on. 

She wanted us all to come out to On Top Of The World by Imagine Dragons because it's a happy, upbeat song. It wasn't a wake, it was an after party. So for us to all then go to the after party, she wanted us all to be in high spirits, in a good mood having left on a happy song.

And then mum on the other hand. She was diagnosed two years ago now with lung cancer. Katie and her were having a bit of a race to see who could get gone first and unfortunately Mum lost, she really wanted to go first so that she could be there to welcome Katie. But as it turns out, it's going to be the other way round. 

Mum and Katie were very close. Katie lived with my mum for about 10 years so she was like another daughter. She wanted to go and have a sleep over at Nan’s house before she got too poorly, so we went and she just finished one lot of antibiotics and the night that we went and stayed, she started with the fever and the chills, so I got her home as quickly as I could first thing in the morning. But she managed to have a sleep over and get on the bed and have a cuddle with her nan.

Katie's got a memorial bench on the sea front because that was her happy place. That's where her and Bella always used to go whatever the weather. So we've all got somewhere to go should we want to just sit and chat, rant, scream, shout, cry.

SinglePoint went out to Mum in Jaywick a couple of times, and then they asked if she wanted to go into the Hospice, and she said she would like to. She wants to be there so we don’t have to worry about her because we know she is being looked after.

I can't praise St Helena enough, and I will do everything I can to raise money moving forward.

Image: Sandra and Sophie

Sandra and Sophie at St Helena Hospice

My youngest daughter, Georgia, is auctioning men from her workplace this week in aid of St Helena. And then her and her friend and the owner of the pub are all shaving their heads in May, and they've got entertainment and raffles, and that's all going to St Helena as well. 

They're trying to raise as much as they can because in a very, very difficult time, St Helena made things so much easier and the peace of mind that they give you and the fact that they actually listen. It was just so nice for somebody to actually hear Katie and what she wanted. 

She died at home on her own terms and with such dignity and respect, and it was just amazing. Absolutely amazing. She had care at home, and that's where she wanted to be and that's where she passed. And Mum wanted to go into the hospice to make things easier for us so that we haven't got to be over there worrying and staying with her to make sure that she's got somebody there with her all the time. 

St Helena has just made things much easier and much more manageable for our family.  

Image: Katie and her daughter Arabella

Katie and Bella enjoying seafood boil

Image: Katie and Sandra

Cuddle with nan Sandra

Image: Arabella by her mum's memorial bench

Bella at her mum Katie's bench

Image: Katie and dog

Katie with her dog

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


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