Cancer doesn’t happen to people like Victor and me, it happens to faceless, nameless people in other towns and other countries.
When Victor, who was an artist, told me two years ago that he had noticed a lump on his chest wall I didn’t make much of it. Victor knew it needed attention. He was very fortunate that he saw a doctor who suspected sarcoma rather than misdiagnosing it as a fatty lump.
The life we had changed when Victor received a phone call to tell him the results of the CT scan he had had earlier in the day. The doctor told him that the lump was possibly a sarcoma which would be surgically removed. I was absolutely stunned. I couldn’t believe that Victor might have cancer. Further tests and a biopsy confirmed it was a soft tissue sarcoma.
Victor and I sat in disbelief when we met the consultant and sarcoma specialist nurse a little later. He told us that he and another surgeon would operate to remove the tumour in what was to be a major procedure. This would be followed by radiotherapy.
We thought of the cancer as an uninvited guest in our home. It over-shadowed everything that we had taken for granted. After the surgery and radiotherapy we were able to live with some normality- Victor returned to his studio to paint and I returned to work.
Victor’s first scan following the operation showed something that needed investigating. A CT guided biopsy confirmed a new tumour. This was in May 2013. Further radiotherapy followed but more tumours appeared. There was more radiotherapy then chemotherapy. Victor had three hospital admissions, two following chemotherapy and one for a tumour which was bleeding.
In June of this year (2014) Victor began to decline.
In the days leading up to his death he spoke openly about dying. On June 18th Victor was due to have a scan and a frank discussion about his disease. I was concerned that I was no longer able to care for Victor safely at home and following some phone calls by the consultant we were instructed to go straight to St. Julia’s Hospice. I was immensely relieved. I knew Victor would receive all the medical attention he needed. When we arrived at St. Julia’s I said “It’s brilliant that we’re here isn’t it Victor”.
We were only at St. Julia’s for a short period. Victor died the next day.
The care and compassion was outstanding. I was able to stay with Victor and during the night if I had any concerns I simply rang the bell and he was attended to. The doctors and nurses spoke openly about Victor’s condition and what they were doing. When Victor died, the compassion and dignity continued.
Alongside the professionalism was warmth. Victor and I were able to be “Victor and Bernadette” again while at the hospice rather than patient and carer.
I am very sad that Victor has died but I gain great comfort from the knowledge that he died in the safety and warmth of St. Julia’s.