IT was on Christmas Day last year that Anne Freeman first experienced the care service provided by Sue
IT was on Christmas Day last year that Anne Freeman first experienced the care service provided by Sue Ryder.
Her husband Terry, who was suffering from prostate cancer, had been discharged from hospital the previous day.
Mrs Freeman, 62, suddenly realised that he had been sent home with insufficient medication and only one of the two steroids he needed to take each day.
She tried repeatedly to reach someone at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, where her 76-year-old husband had spent the previous two weeks, but without success.
Desperate for help, she found a phone number for the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed among the paperwork she had been given and decided to call.
The community nurse specialist at the hospice arranged for the extra medication to be delivered to the couple’s home in New Road, Shillingford, and stayed in touch with Mrs Freeman throughout the day to make sure she was okay.
After this experience of the service, the couple used Sye Ryder for day sessions and home care before Mr Freeman moved into the Nettlebed hospice. He died there in May.
The Freemans, who were married for 27 years, first met at the dental practice where he worked as a dentist and she was a dental nurse. They both retired in 1999.
Mr Freeman found out he had cancer in 2012, three years after having a cancerous growth in an eye removed.
He wife recalled: “He wasn’t ill and we never had any indication. Then one day I noticed there was blood on the bed where he had been sitting.
“I thought it was a pile and made him an appointment to go to the doctor. He said no but I insisted.
“The doctor did a prostate exam where he said it was a bit abnormal. We weren’t really worried and the doctor said even if he had prostate cancer it probably wouldn’t take him to the grave.”
Even after it was confirmed Mr Freeman had the disease, the couple were told it was contained and could be treated with radiotherapy and hormone treatment.
But in 2014 his condition worsened and in July that year the consultant advised that Mr Freeman should have chemotherapy, a more aggressive type of treatment.
Mrs Freeman said: “We had booked a holiday in France in the August and the consultant said to go and they could do a body and bone scan when we came back.
“We came back thinking things would be fine as there didn’t seem any urgency.
“The treatment started in September and Terry coped really well with it. But then they did the body scan and found crystals pressing on the vein to the aorta. Then they found cancer in the lymph nodes and in the spine. It happened so quickly.”
After the third chemotherapy session, Mr Freeman started getting back pain and he was admitted to hospital.
The chemotherapy was stopped while doctors tried to get his pain under control but after two weeks in hospital, he was sent home on Christmas Eve.
Mrs Freeman was driving home from dropping a friend at Gatwick Airport when she received a call saying her husband had been discharged.
She said: “I got back and Terry walked up the stairs of our house. I don’t know how.
“We had a bed and bag of drugs. The bed had arrived about an hour before Terry did and it had to be assembled. When Terry arrived, my neighbour was helping me.
“On Christmas morning Terry got up to shower and I sorted out his drugs for breakfast. I opened the steroid box and there was just the one left.”
Worried, Mrs Freeman called the hospital numbers she had been given in case of a problem but wasn’t able to get through.
Finally, she rang the number she had been given for Sue Ryder.
She said: “It was Christmas morning and I thought ‘nobody’s going to answer but this lovely voice said. ‘Sue Ryder, how can I help you?’
“I said, ‘well, I don’t know what to do’. This was 8am and Terry was worried but she said she would speak to one of the community nurses when they came in. I got a call back and they asked if we wanted someone to come out.
“Because it was Christmas and we only needed a steroid I said I didn’t want to be a hindrance but she said she would be happy to come out.
“Within 40 minutes she called again and said the drug would be delivered via a courier from the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
“She said she would be happy to pop in to see us on her way home and that there was always someone on the end of the line.”
The medication arrived the next morning and was followed shortly afterwards by a visit from community nurse specialist Louisa Nicoll.
Mrs Freeman said: “When Louisa arrived, she couldn’t believe how they’d sent the medication and I showed her the box and my instructions on how to increase it. We worked it all out.
“She spoke to Terry and said ‘there’s always someone on the end of the phone at Sue Ryder’.
“That was my first encounter of Sue Ryder and they are still there for me now. Terry and I were both scared but they were marvellous. I don’t know what we would have done without them.”
Mrs Nicoll said: “This was a prime example of how our round-the-clock availability is a much-needed aspect of our service.
“They were able to call us even during the Christmas holidays instead of having to wait longer and be in pain.
“It wasn’t just about practical things like sorting out medication but offering some really good emotional support for both of them.
“For me, it made working on Boxing Day worthwhile to know we’d made a difference.
“It was just being there that mattered most — one of our team spent quite some time on the phone with them on Christmas Day and being able to visit the day afterwards was a real lifeline.
“That initial contact helped to build a connection with them straight away and meant they had confidence in us when we met them again.
“Being able to pick up the phone and speak to someone at any time often gives people the confidence to stay at home if that is what they want — without that, they may end up being admitted to hospital.”
By January, Mr Freeman’s condition had deteriorated, so he began to attend regular day hospice sessions run by Sue Ryder.
He was seen by doctors and physiotherapists at the hospice and took part in activities including painting and quizzes.
He spent four weeks in a room after taking a bad turn before returning home but Mrs Freeman admits this was a “mistake” and in April they decided to move him to the hospice permanently.
She said: “I promised Terry he wouldn’t have to go back to hospital and the only place he would be going was Sue Ryder. He was so scared of going back into hospital.
“The hospice found him a bed and we thought he might be picking up by Easter but over the holiday he went right down and there was no way he was coming home.
“I was there every day from 10am. The staff were always jolly and made me feel like I wasn’t in the way. I would leave when he was bedded down but once he stopped leaving his bed I came in a little later. He never complained and always kept his spirit.
“The volunteers and staff up there are special people and they helped me too as I started therapy while Terry was still there.
“Before I had known nothing at all about Sue Ryder but when I walked through the door with Terry for the first time it felt tranquil and peaceful.
“Everyone always asked how I was as well as Terry and nothing was too much trouble. They make you feel like they care — and they do.”
After her husband’s death, Mrs Freeman continued to visit the hospice, where she received counselling, and now she wants to work there as a volunteer.
She said: “Right up until the day Terry died I never admitted to myself that he would die, although I knew he would never come back from it.
“Sue Ryder encouraged us to talk to each other and I have no regrets — we talked, cried and laughed.
“I still go up there and I’m hoping to volunteer but they say it’s too soon. I’ll probably start in the office and move down hopefully to the wards.
“Terry knew they were there for him and he felt safe. It’s an incredible place and it doesn’t feel sad to me. Terry knew they would look after him when I couldn’t. From the day he entered to the day he died it was the same.
“They don’t only look after the patients but the wives, husbands and children too. You always get a hug or a touch and they genuinely care.
“You can’t put a price on Sue Ryder and until you experience it you don’t realise.”
How you can help the hospice?
YOU can donate to Sue Ryder in the following ways:
• Online at www.sueryder.org/donate Please enter your postcode to allow Sue Ryder to allocate your donation to the Nettlebed hospice.
• By post. Send a donation to: Sue Ryder Nettlebed Hospice, Joyce Grove, Nettlebed, RG9 5DF. Please make cheques payable to “Sue Ryder Nettlebed hospice”.
• In person at the hospice or by leaving your donation at the
offices at Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley-on-Thames, RG9 1AD.
• By telephone. Please call (01491) 641384 ext. 246. All cards are accepted.