"You’ve got to take this in a light-hearted way"
St Helena has become part of Keith Taylor’s life this year. Keith, has prostate cancer and has become a real advocate of the range of services offered to him. So much so, that he has recently joined St Helena’s service user group, a group of people including patients, carers and family members who advise management from their own experiences of St Helena services.
“I want to get across the message about our work,” said Keith. “I want to help dispel the pre-conceived idea that a hospice generates fear and is a sad place; a place to go to die. It is not.
“We must encourage one and all that the fear can be overcome, that a good end of life is true and that hospice is not always the end.”
It's more than an art class
Keith has attended our Art and Craft group, one of the activities run by Day Therapies. The weekly sessions are a valuable opportunity for people who have an interest in art and craft to come together in a friendly environment for support from peers and professionals. While drawing and painting they talk to each other about their different illnesses, or anything else that comes up in conversation. Keith explained:
“What I like about it is that it doesn’t matter what your art standards are, it’s not that. The art is a vehicle, if you like, for talking to people, hearing people’s experiences. Listen and take from their experiences and get on with your life.
"The group encourages you to get on with life. It means everything to me.
"It’s my one outside main interest which I can take home with me. It just sort of encourages me. Just seeing other people and the way they work. It’s encouragement to have social friends; you can so easily get cut off.
“It’s a bit of laughter and fun; an extension of the physical side of it all. People may think it’s just an art class, but it’s far more than that.”
It's for the whole family
Keith will soon be going for his second week-long respite stay at The Hospice, which will not only give him a rest, but is a chance for his wife to have a break from routine too, knowing he will be well cared for. When it was suggested for the first time earlier this year, he thought it was a fantastic idea, not really knowing what to expect.
“It changed me. It did me good and not only that, it did my wife good. The whole thing is family orientated. All your relations are affected by your illness.
“It’s all very positive. My wife texted me and said ‘I haven’t seen you so happy for a long time’.
“She is able to come here too and talk to other people. She has counselling with the chaplaincy team and they’ve helped her, so it’s for the whole family, and I find that is so helpful. She is also coming here for reflexology.”
Talking with peers
Keith has attended Men’s Cancer group, an informal Day Therapies programme offering the opportunity to meet new people and learn about living fully despite the effects of illness.
“You can talk about things to do with men; how cancer affects men and the various emotions it brings. Men are so tight-lipped about talking about things like that. We don’t get ill, we stuff it out!
“But at the group we talk to people and encourage each other. It makes a whole world of difference to people’s lives trying to help them cope with it.
“There are things said that I hadn’t really thought about. I began to come out a bit more myself; the Art and Craft group had already helped a lot and got me out of the first stage of depression.
“It’s a good social time but it’s also interesting to see other people and how illness is affecting a particular person. We’ve all experienced similar things in the group and it’s a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. It’s talking generally and looking at ways of dealing with situations. It goes through things like how we can help ourselves daily or being aware of what support is available at St Helena.
“One of the things we were asked to do was to record what we are grateful for each week and one of the things I wrote was ‘I’ve had a respite week as an inpatient and I found it very very helpful - a very relaxing time’.
“I think because the group is held in The Hospice, we all know we’re in that situation. We go away and we meet again a week later. When the Men’s Cancer group gets together, it’s because they have much the same sort of life. Cancer can cause a lot of arguments between people and it’s all so unnecessary if only people would talk to each other.”
You get encouragement yourself
Keith explains how he felt when he was first diagnosed with cancer in late 2011: “I was frightened. But then it didn’t last long. The hospital talked to me a lot about what they were going to do and the effects it was going to have on me. And I was thinking about the pain… it’s an insidious disease, cancer, because I’ve never felt any real pain and yet it’s gradually creeping.
“But laughter for me has come into quite a lot of it. I thought, you’ve got to take this in a light-hearted way, not frivolous, but in a light-hearted way.
“I didn’t know a thing about hospices before. It does come back to encouraging people; you get encouragement yourself.
“It’s not what you think it is, it’s not a place of dying, although obviously that happens, but when it does it’s all done in a very kind, loving, ‘happy’ manner.
“I think the hospice staff and volunteers are very special. Not many people have those credentials. You can’t really describe it because the people are so special.”
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