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Cancer sufferer says death should not be a taboo subject

Discovering she is terminally ill has not stopped Claire Baron from enjoying each day – and she wants to share her belief that it is OK to talk openly about dying.

The 51-year-old was diagnosed with lung cancer in June and told it was unlikely she would see Christmas. Since then, she has found strength through her family, her Christian faith and the support offered by hospice charity ellenor.

She said: “I’m not going to become a victim and I still have my sense of humour, but I do struggle with feelings of guilt and grief.”

The guilt Claire feels is towards her large and loving family – knowing what a tough journey lies ahead and knowing that their grief will continue after she is gone. Among her support network are mother Maureen, partner Gary, two grown-up daughters, Shauna and Sam, and six grandchildren. She also has her father Barry, stepmother Rosemary and three brothers, Dean, Leigh and Ryan.

She said: “It’s not just me, it’s we. My diagnosis was a real shock, but I think we have all managed to deal with it as best we can. I am very strong, and I have told the family I don’t want any tears and luckily, they are of the same mindset. But of course, you don’t know how people will really cope until they are going through it.

“My life is going to come to an end, but it is a different story for my family because they are going to carry on. I want to give them a hug at their point of grief and to say it’s going to be OK.”

Claire went to the doctor in June complaining of a cough. She suffers from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) so thought maybe she had a chest infection, Sadly, there was a 9cm tumour growing in her right lung and the cancer had spread to a kidney.

She chose not to have radiotherapy, chemotherapy or biopsies and was contacted by ellenor, who offered palliative support. She has decided she would like to die at home, where her partner Gary and mum Maureen are looking after her. Both Claire and Gary have been given leave by their bosses at Arriva, where they work as bus drivers.

Claire said: “It’s a struggle knowing that my partner and my mum are watching me die but my family support network is large. We are all about togetherness.”

Each day is physically and emotionally challenging now for Claire. Aromasticks given to her by complementary therapists at ellenor have helped her to stay calm, and she is hoping to have some therapy sessions at the hospice soon.

She said: “From the moment I wake up I want to go back to sleep, which is difficult for me. I have always been an independent person, going out walking and keeping active.”

Claire’s positive attitude was apparent from when ellenor first became involved in her care. Within months of her diagnosis, she had already raised about £1,600 for the charity by doing a sponsored walk.

She also decided to bravely host her own wake at the café run by her brother Dean at Eastgate Church in Gravesend. Once family and friends were gathered, Gary and Claire treated them to a surprise spiritual wedding.


She said: There was no registrar, so we have not signed on the dotted line, but we are married in the eyes of God and that is what mattered to us.”

Claire has been having counselling sessions at ellenor, where she is able to talk openly about her feelings, without guilt.

She said: “The counselling is going well and it’s really helping me. You are so used to thinking about everyone else that sometimes you have to remind yourself it’s about you as well, and I struggle with that. But when I’m in a counselling session I don’t have to feel guilty. The counsellor, Cat, has also taught me how to put an emotional hula hoop around myself.”

Claire has also met with hospice chaplain Ben.

She said: “He came to me here at home, which was lovely. We are hoping to get together again, for communion.

“I’m a Christian and my faith has helped me. In the beginning you feel strong, thinking this is God’s plan and meant to be, but I have had a couple of blips since then. However, I do know I am not the first person this has happened to, and I won’t be the last.

“Being told at 50 that you have cancer, and you will be lucky if you are alive by Christmas, is a huge thing. But the people at ellenor help you understand how you are feeling. No one should rush into making decisions when they are diagnosed with a terminal illness. It’s a scary time but the key is to try and keep your mind clear, do things like your will and a funeral plan, but also remain positive.”

Claire has not wasted a single day since her diagnosis, taking little breaks in Devon and Dorset and days out at Chartwell, Leeds Castle, Hever Caste – and swimming in the sea at Whitstable.

She said: “I am very lucky to have the support of my family but I’m aware there are others in my situation who don’t have that privilege. They can find that support from ellenor, through the chaplain there, through counselling – or they can seek to find their faith. It’s hard for people who are not as strong as me or who do not have family support.

“My message is that even after a terminal diagnosis, you can still live each day of your life. Some people do feel that once they are told they have cancer their life is over, but everyone’s life will be over one day. We all beg for more time – it’s how we are as humans. I have decided I will be here this Christmas, and for January and February too – that’s just how I am.

“It’s a shame that we don’t talk much about dying in this country. It’s inevitable for all of us and yet it’s such a taboo subject. If it wasn’t, it would be so much easier for everyone when the time comes. We need to talk more about death and dying – communication is the answer.”