Zoë Pennells, 40, of East Keswick, near Wetherby, saw first hand the care at St Gemma’s Hospice when her mum Julia Leppington spent her final weeks there.
Her mum, who had already battled breast cancer ten years before, was diagnosed with rare peritoneal cancer in 2012.
The cancer started in the stomach lining but spread and in August 2012, her family was told it was terminal.
Mrs Leppington, who also suffered from multiple sclerosis, went into St James’ Hospital for nearly three months from July 2013, where she bravely embarked on intensive chemotherapy to try and prolong her life.
But after suffering a bad reaction to the second round, it was decided in September she would go to St Gemma’s, where she sadly died two weeks later, aged 64.
Zoë, a mum of one, said she remembered being surprised by how she felt at the hospice, compared to the sterile environment at hospital.
“The difference is the homeliness of the place, and how easy it was to see my mum. We’d been used to visiting hours but at St Gemma’s you can come any time - first thing in the morning or through the night if you need to be with them. You can even stay the night - the rooms have sofa beds.
“It was a beautiful room, compared to her room at hospital. She had a balcony. I remember sitting out there and reading a book, and the day before she died, being with my brother on the balcony while she was asleep.
“The nurses were just brilliant as well. Words can’t describe what a fantastic job they do. They couldn’t do enough for you; couldn’t do enough for mum.
“At hospital, there were certain times for breakfast, lunch and tea but at the hospice, any time she wanted anything they would go and get it for her - or for us.
“There was someone there for you around the clock. Nothing was too much trouble.”
She said, despite being very poorly, she remembered her mum commenting on how nice she thought the hospice was.
“Obviously by the time she got there, she knew then what she was facing. She was terrified, I could tell. Terrified of dying and was quite anxious.
“But in terms of making her comfortable, they did everything they possibly could. The medication was great and they were always prepared to up it and give her more if she was in pain.
“The consultant too. I was with my dad and he sat us down and said he wasn’t expecting probably any more than a week to 10 days and the way he told us was very compassionate, very understanding.
“To have someone go through what my mum went through, which was an intense amount of suffering, and to watch them go through it every single day, the care at St Gemma’s gives families the peace of mind that their relatives are being professionally cared for at all times and that they are literally in the best place possible under the circumstances.
“Having that peace of mind was so important to me.”
Zoë said the support continues afterwards too.
“Their bereavement counselling are always sending us letters out to let us know they’re there if we need them. Being able to talk to someone who understands, is just really vital. That these people are there just for you. That they are there and fully qualified and have the time for you.”
She urged YEP readers to back the Half and Half Appeal, to safeguard the future of the hospices and continue their crucial roles.
“I think it’s absolutely vital. I think you probably don’t know enough about it unless you’ve experienced it yourself.
“I’ve lived in the area but I never realised what an amazing job they do.”
Zoë said she plans on taking part in St Gemma’s Midnight Walk in May with family members and work colleagues to help boost hospice funds and also plans to do volunteer work.
She said: “Despite only being with the hospice for a short period of time I came away after my Mum had passed away feeling a real sense of loyalty and gratitude to St Gemma’s and wanting to do everything I could to help them.
“Experiencing the care that they provide first hand has really cemented for me in my mind what a vital role it plays in the community. I feel many families would be lost without them.”
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