What 53-year-old Nanny and Mum Julie Lloyd loves about Christmas is having all the family together. Every year on Christmas Eve she and husband Richard wait for a call to say their granddaughters are asleep before creeping into their daughter’s house in Paignton to leave presents under their tree. They silently slope away again, returning on Christmas morning to watch the excitement on their granddaughters’ faces as they open their presents. Then the whole family, including dogs, puppies, children and great grandparents pile in to their house for a Christmas meal.
Up until January this year the Lloyds, and their Christmases, were much the same as many other families. But the beginning of 2016 came with some devastating news - Julie was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She immediately had to stop work and a few months later was referred to Rowcroft Hospice for support at home.
“My GP referred me to Rowcroft’s Community Nurse Specialist, Tracey. I used to think Rowcroft was somewhere you went and didn’t come out of. I had no idea about the services that would be available to me at home.”
Following her referral Julie had access to a Rowcroft Occupational Therapist (OT) who began to help her with day to day activities at home which she’d begun to struggle with. “Our sofa is quite low so the OT arranged for it to be made higher so I could get off it more easily, we had a bar put in our shower bath so I could shower more easily, and I was given a grabber so I could pick things up that I hadn’t been able to bend for.”
As well as seeing the Occupational Therapist, Julie received Complementary Therapy including reflexology for relaxation, and was also referred to the Community Social Work Team as emotionally she was very low. She explained: “The Complementary Therapy takes my mind off everything and allows me to relax; my husband has been having it too. The Social Worker Emily helped me with how to approach the subject of my illness with my grandchildren. I was given books to help explain what would be happening to me – why I’d be losing my hair. Now my grandchildren think my wig is hilarious! Emily has also given me some memory boxes to do with my grandchildren. They’re boxes with little draws to put keepsakes in. We’re trying to decide what to put in them, maybe some aprons I made with my granddaughters’ initials on. But we’ll sit down with glue and anything else and do them together.”
Julie’s husband Richard added: “The care my wife has received from minute one has been nothing short of first class, we have been offered so much support from Rowcroft.”
Having been supported to live well at home for most of the year, Autumn brought fresh challenges and Julie’s health began to decline, deteriorating so much that she went from looking forward to another Christmas with her family, to wanting to give up.
“I was bed bound because of my tumour, I could barely walk to the toilet with two sticks and I got to the stage where I thought – what’s the point?”
Julie’s Community Nurse Specialist, Tracey, identified that Julie needed 24 hour medical and nursing care somewhere she could be assessed and supported, so admitted her to Rowcroft’s Inpatient Unit.
Tracey explained: “Having supported Julie at home since July I recognised that her needs were such that a short stay in the Inpatient Unit would maximise her quality of life.
“The community nurses had been visiting daily to manage a complex wound she had, but we felt she would benefit from intensive treatment which was not possible to give her at home.
“Emotionally Julie was also very low, fed up and not eating because of how she was feeling. I know how important Christmas and her family are to her so I wanted to try and ensure that Julie would be able to sit at the table for lunch with her family rather than being upstairs in bed.
“Although Julie was apprehensive about coming in to the hospice, with reassurance she was able to see that it would improve her quality of life and so agreed to come in when a bed was available.”
The results since Julie’s admission have been incredible.
“They have literally got me back on my feet,” explains Julie, “I am now walking to the door, even up the stairs without the aid of sticks and my stomach’s better so I’ve got my appetite back.
“Nothing’s too much trouble for anyone here, even the Doctors have been offering me cups of tea, and we’ve been allowed to bring our dogs in. They’re part of the family so it’s been lovely to see them.
“After just two weeks here I know I’m strong enough now; strong enough to go to Marks and Spencer to do some Christmas shopping, and to a Christmas lunch with some old work colleagues. I hadn’t been out of bed for a month, now I’m buying stocking fillers.”
Julie’s symptoms have improved so much that last week she had some amazing news, she’d be able to go home to spend Christmas with her family.
“A month ago I didn’t think there was any way I’d be able to sit and eat Christmas dinner with my family and without Rowcroft it wouldn’t be happening. Now I can’t wait to get home. My grandchildren have been saying to me since I came in, Nanny, Nanny when are you coming home?!”
So, if you live in Paignton and look out of your window on Christmas Eve to see a couple sneaking quietly up the road with bags of presents, keep as quiet as possible, and think of Julie and Richard, about to make some Christmas wishes come true.
Every year Rowcroft Hospice is able to help more than 2,000 patients living with life-limiting illnesses in South Devon make precious memories with their families and friends. The hospice is currently facing a drastic funding shortfall and needs your help to ensure care can continue to be provided for local families for many years to come.
Julie said: “Without financial support from the community Rowcroft wouldn’t be able to offer me the services that have put me back on my feet. Without them I think I would have given up – that’s what I want to get across.”
To make a monthly or one-off donation, please visit www.rowcrofthospice.org.uk/appeal today.