A WIFE whose 36-year-old husband lost his skin cancer battle on Christmas Day two years ago is forever grateful for the “respectful” care he received at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice in Leeds.
Fraser Clark, who was suffering from untreatable malignant melanoma, died at the hospice early on Christmas Day 2015 with his wife Rebecca Messenger-Clark by his side.
The couple’s daughter Sylvie, now aged four, was just two-and-a-half-years-old when her father died. Mrs Messenger-Clark, 37, of Horsforth, has spoken of her appreciation of the care she and her husband received and the support she continues to benefit from in a bid to raise awareness of the hospice’s vital work during Hospice Care Week. Mrs Messenger-Clark, a governance and corporate affairs officer at the University of Leeds, had enjoyed visiting summer fairs in the hospice grounds as a child in the 1980s when her grandfather Malcolm Townsend was hospice treasurer. She never imagined she would return to the hospice in the most tragic of circumstances. Her husband Fraser, who worked as a risk manager at Lloyds bank in Leeds, went to see his GP in January 2014 after becoming concerned about a mole he discovered in his armpit.
The mole was a malignant melanoma and the cancer had spread to some of Mr Clark’s lymph nodes, which were removed during an operation. In November 2014 it was discovered the cancer had spread to Mr Clark’s lungs and he started a course of immunotherapy in January 2015, but did not respond to it.
Mrs Messenger-Clark said: “Towards the end of 2015 he started being really ill. I still remember vividly an episode while we were at the hospital and he was hallucinating. “I just thought what a horrible way if he dies now, surrounded by medical equipment and people he doesn’t know.” On December 18 2015 doctors at St James’s Hospital discovered the cancer had spread to the lining of Mr Clark’s brain and he was admitted to Wheatfields Hospice the following day.
Mrs Messenger-Clark, who stayed with her husband at the hospice, said: “The staff at the hospice were amazing with the family and with me.
“But it was really clear that their main priority was Fraser and his wellbeing and what was best for him.
“They were just really respectful. It felt really reassuring that I didn’t have to see him be uncomfortable.
“When Sylvie came in they made a fuss of her and she got presents and they all knew who she was.
“Sylvie really liked coming in to see him. She was able to play in his room, which was really nice. It wouldn’t have been like that if he was in hospital.
“She was able to be in a room with him without it having to be a big deal.”
Mrs Messenger-Clark added: “I had lots of conversations with the nurses at the time about how I would understand when Fraser was dying, how the drugs he was taking would affect him, what would ultimately make him die?
“They simply answered any questions I had. They were really wonderful.
“They were there for me whenever I needed them and really took care of me.
“I especially remember them asking, near the end, if I was OK explaining things to Fraser’s parents or if I wanted them to do it. “I wasn’t sure that bringing Sylvie to see him was a good idea, but they reassured me he would be pleased to hear her voice. “We didn’t know if Fraser would reach Christmas, but he did.
“I was with him when he died. I woke up and heard birds singing outside, he was gone. It was Christmas Day.”
THE NEW Horizions Cafe at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice is a peer support group that gives widows and partners aged under 50 the opportunity to meet up, share stories and discuss coping strategies.
Wheatfields Hospice community nurse specialist Julie Pimlott-Jones, 48, of Guiseley, had the idea for the support group after her personal experience of loss.
Mrs Pimlott-Jones’ husband Steve Jones suffered a sudden heart problem and died aged 37 in July 2008 when the couple’s children were aged eight and 12.
She said: “I needed some peer support from people who understood me, people who had gone through the same thing.
“It was something that had never been offered to me at the time and I felt it was something that might help other people.”
Mrs Pimlott-Jones said the family support team at the hospice did run bereavement support groups, but not specifically for widows and widowers aged under 50.
The informal New Horizons Cafe support group, which offers supervision for parents with children, meets at the hospice every six weeks on Saturday mornings.
Mrs Pimlott-Jones, who runs the group with Annie Collins, said: “Everybody is at different stages in their bereavement.
“When people first join the group it’s very raw and they may not have a lot of hope for the future.
“If they see someone six-months or a year down the line managing to have some happiness then that gives people some hope that how they feel may improve.”
Rebecca Messenger-Clark, who regularly attends the New Horizons Cafe, said: “The group really helps to keep me sane.
“It’s like therapy without a therapist. I met some lovely people and made some good friends.
“It’s so important to have a support group. You are amongst people who perfectly understand you.
“No matter how much your friends and family try to be there for you, you are more careful about what you say, especially about how hard it sometimes is, and how lost and separate you can sometimes feel, because you don’t want to worry them. We can be really open and honest about your feelings.
“Sometimes we make jokes about what happened to us that our friends or family wouldn’t understand.”
EVERY year Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice supports hundreds of people living with life-limiting illnesses to live life as fully as possible.
The hospice provides a wide range of services including medical care, complementary therapies, occupational and physio therapies, emotional support such as counselling and volunteer-led support, including
The hospice needs to raise more than £2.5m in donations towards the £4.4m annual cost of running the hospice.
To find out more about how you can get involved and support hospice care, or to make a donation, call the fundraising team on 0113 278 7249, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sueryder.org/donate