For a couple in their early 80s, no one could accuse Helen and Victor of ‘acting their age’.
The pair, married for 40 years, still had plenty of life left in them – and so much left to do with it. From ocean cruises and jaunts to the south of France to tending their West Kingsdown cottage back home, life was full. Sweet. Enjoyable.
But then, Helen became ill. After a stint in hospital, and an initial misdiagnosis, the true cause of Helen’s symptoms came to horrifying light: pancreatic cancer.
“We were running on the assumption that it was a blocked bowel,” Victor explains. “She’d been receiving medication for that. So when the cancer diagnosis arrived, we were dumbfounded. In a state of pure shock.”
Helen was sent home. But as the days passed, her condition – and her pain – began to deteriorate. Victor, still in shock, was despairing.
But he did have something – a name, and a number. A lifeline.
Victor had heard about ellenor from paramedics – who’d visited earlier that evening – after asking about the nearest hospice. They’d given him ellenor’s number. Now, he picked up the phone and dialled it.
“It was late, and Helen was in a bad way. She begged me: ‘get me somewhere, Vic – I’m really, really in pain.’ So I phoned ellenor, and said ‘I’m in a bit of a state with this.’
Victor explained the situation, and Nele – the Ward Sister he was speaking with – had an instinct. She knew that Helen needed to get to ellenor, immediately – and advised Victor to get her there. Shortly after, Helen and Victor arrived.
“We were taken to a lovely room down at ellenor,” Victor says, “and the doctor started working with her in five minutes. Straight away, Helen was given a bed, medication for the pain, and made very comfortable.
“She got more comfortable, more comfortable… until she wasn’t in pain anymore. Then, of course, she slipped away.”
Helen died with dignity, in the arms of her husband of four decades. And the devastating course of Helen’s final days – which began with the shock of the diagnosis, and reached its lowest point with the increasing severity of her symptoms – was finally at an end. Not in pain – but in peace.
The speed and attention ellenor responded with – both on the phone, and when Helen was admitted onto its Northfleet-based inpatient ward – bought Helen precious relief from her agony. But it also bought her, and Victor, something equally precious – time.
“Those few hours were so important to us,” Victor explains. “They gave me the time to hold her, to cuddle her – time when she wasn’t hurting.”