Lauren Oldfield jumped out of a plane, despite her dislike of flying. The memory of her dad Steve gave her the courage to do a fundraising skydive for St Helena to help other families receive support when they need it. Steve was diagnosed with a fast growing brain tumour in February 2015 age 53 and died 14 months later. Lauren shares their story…
I thought about my dad the whole day. He hated flying as well. He would have been proud of me. He wanted to go on a flying course where they teach you how not to be afraid. But he never did in the end.
I was with him when he died at home, where he wanted to be. I wasn’t even meant to be there that night but I thought, I’ll go and stay because I’m off Monday morning. So I wasn’t even meant to be there, it was strange.
I’d sleep next to him because he loved his cuddles and he always wanted to be close to someone. So I got into bed with him and had a cuddle and fell asleep. I must have felt him stop breathing and I woke up and I checked because I had a dream that he’d gone.
He didn’t know where he was
He used to forget things. He’d say ‘text me to remind me on the day’. Then one day he said he couldn’t remember something we’d spoken about the day before. He hated going to the doctors, didn’t like taking pills, anything to do with hospitals; he hated it. His speech had also started to go. The doctor sent us straight to the hospital where he had scans and they saw it straight away – a tumour like a tennis ball pushing on his brain.
After a 10 hour operation, the surgeon had removed about 90% of it. When dad came round from the operation they needed to see if he was responding and if his brain was functioning, so they asked me to ask him to squeeze my hand. I was at the end of the bed and he squeezed it really hard.
Comfort of his own home
He went to stay at my nan and grandad’s. He loved it there, being in the comfort of his own home. He grew up in that house, he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We got in touch with St Helena’s SinglePoint and a community clinical nurse specialist came out. They arranged a speech and language therapist and a stair lift.
Dad didn’t want to talk about his illness. He would still worry about everyone else and we tried to keep him in high spirits. I think we all just didn’t want to talk about it.
There were a few times when he did talk, especially when he started his radiotherapy. He saw a photo of himself before and after and said what a long way he had come. He said ‘I’m going to beat this’. He looked amazing and we all thought at that point, you have beaten this.
He never gave anything away
He was very old fashioned, very old school in the sense that he was a gentleman, very laid back. He was a lovely man, affectionate. I could tell him anything. He was a proper dad in the sense that he’d say, ok we’ll get this sorted. I did have a good bond with him; we’re very similar.
There was a time that he was doing so well that the hospital suggested he came off some of his medication. At one point his speech was fantastic and if he got a word wrong, we would say slow down, take a breath, have a think about it, and then he’d be ok. If he was upset or had a bad day then his speech wouldn’t be very good.
The Hospice consultant came out a few times to see about his medication and pain relief, and towards the end the Hospice in the Home team came in quite a lot. They would ask him to sit at the edge of the bed and ask him to do certain movements and ask how he was feeling, but he never gave anything away.
They were regular faces coming in to see him. It was nice to always see the same faces and they could get to know us as well. When you think about a St Helena Hospice nurse you think, oh that’s just a reminder, but dad used to be really pleased to see her.
His clinical nurse specialist came to talk to him and he did open up to her once or twice. They talked about everything; where he wanted to be, what his wishes were, his choices.
I was offered counselling and had a few massages at the Joan Tomkins Centre to help me relax. It takes your mind off it for a little while, I suppose.
You don’t have to keep fighting
I was with him at the end, so he wasn’t on his own. We were very close.
He didn’t want to take his food, didn’t want to drink or take his tablets. He put his hand on my face and I just said to him ‘you don’t have to keep fighting anymore dad, I hate seeing you like this, you don’t have to keep fighting for us’. I think he held on for us.
I could see he’d had enough. In the last week he was just in bed, he didn’t get out. He hated that, he hated not being able to get out and about. I think he did it to please us. I said to him ‘you haven’t got to keep fighting anymore’. And it was that night.
It was about quarter past one in the morning. I called nan and grandad in. I didn’t really know how to feel, sort of glad, but not. Seeing what he had become in the end, I just hated that. He knew he was so different, he wanted people to remember him how he was.
I’ve noticed that I cry more now about him like seeing pictures or silly little things like songs on the radio or whatever, but I think it’s because I’m getting it out now.
I gradually did my crying because he was different when he was ill. When he used to come and stay at mine I’d give him his tablets and we’d watch a film and have dinner and he’d always like to go to bed early. There’d be a certain time and he’d say right I’m going to bed. So I’d take him upstairs and then I’d just cry for a good 10, 15 minutes and I did that every time he’d stay… it was gradual. I knew it was coming towards the end, it was just when.
They were there if you needed anything
I’ve started volunteering at St Helena events and fundraising to recognise all the people that went through it like dad did, like we did; to support other families. I’ve helped at Midnight Walk, that was lovely, that was emotional.
On my skydive I was excited the whole way – and I hate flying! I thought I’d get the feeling of falling in my stomach but I didn’t. When you’re free falling I didn’t get the feeling at all. It was a weird sensation. I remember seeing loads of tiny fields, it was beautiful. Usually if I’m up that high in a plane I’m absolutely petrified – and this was just with a bloke with a parachute. I was just in awe, it was beautiful. I’d definitely do it again.
Even though we had minimal support compared to what some families have, it was still nice to know they were there if you needed anything. We did call SinglePoint a few times and they were there. It was reassurance. You could ask them anything and even if it was something they couldn’t do, they could tell you where to find it.
St Helena was there for us. And if they do any more for other families, then I just want to be part of that.
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