John and Eileen prepare for Christmas in St Catherine’s Hospice – with gifts, turkey, and the King’s Speech
At the start of this year, John and Eileen O’Rourke never imagined they’d be spending Christmas in a hospice.
The Chorley couple admit they struggled to come to terms with John’s shock cancer diagnosis in the summer, but say that St Catherine’s Hospice has given them a new perspective and hope for the future.
Here, they explain what it’s like to plan for a very different Christmas, and how the charity has brought them ‘back to life’.
“It was like going through a door which shut behind you and put you in darkness, and your whole world changed overnight.”
John, 75, from Clayton-le-Woods, started experiencing stomach pains in the summer, and put it down to hurting himself whilst fixing a garden fence. But when the pain got worse, he went to the doctors.
“That’s when all the blood tests, x-rays and scans started,” he explains. “They found cancer in my lymph nodes and then I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I found it really difficult to cope with to be honest, I just couldn’t accept what was happening.”
His wife Eileen adds: “The word ‘cancer’ is horrible, it just grips you. And you should have seen the look on our faces when someone at the hospital mentioned St Catherine’s Hospice; we thought they knew something we didn’t. We thought it meant it was the end of the road.
“But now we understand that the hospice is here to help us at this stage of our journey. With medication John will hopefully be given a few more years, so at the moment it’s all about managing his pain and making sure he’s comfortable and well enough to return home.
“John will be in St Catherine’s at Christmas so we’ll bring Christmas to him. Our children and grandchildren will visit and we’ll open presents in the morning, and then John and I will have Christmas lunch together, which is really important to us.
“I wasn’t sure if I would be able to have Christmas dinner with him but that’s what they do here; they make sure that people can spend quality time together and they look after the family as well as the person staying at the hospice. It will be quite nice not having to cook or wash up actually! And I’m sure the meal will be fantastic because the food here is five stars.
“We’ll watch the King’s speech; it’s a moment in history and I think everyone will remember where they were when they watched his first Christmas Day speech. We’ll remember that we were in this marvellous place which is like a home from home.
“It’s feeling very festive because there are Christmas trees around the hospice and the grounds are filled with lights. It looks so magical; it’s like we’re in a different world.”
Eileen adds: “We’d heard about The Mill café in the hospice grounds in Lostock Hall, and we’ve been meaning to go there for lunch for a long time but just never got round to it. I’d seen that St Catherine’s has had open days and fundraising events in the grounds too, and I really wish we’d gone to those as well, because we would have realised that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
“The gardens are open to everyone and I’d really encourage anybody to visit for a walk, or to go to the café or The Mill Shop. I think people would be surprised by what it’s really like here; it’s not what we imagined.”
John says: “A group of carol singers came round the ward the other day. And the mayors of Preston, South Ribble and Chorley visited so I got to chat with them. It seems like there’s always something going on! It’s a very upbeat place but is also so calm and relaxing.”
The couple, who have four children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren – with one more on the way – first visited St Catherine’s to meet with the hospice’s specialist palliative care consultant, Dr Andrew Fletcher.
John, who has retired from his grounds maintenance job at Cuerden Valley Park, explains: “From the moment we stepped out of the car in the car park, we could already feel a sense of calm. The gardens are the first impression you get and they’re so peaceful. We must have looked a little bit lost because someone approached us and asked if they could help us with anything, and we really felt that we were in a special place.
“Everyone knows you by name, and the little things they do to help you feel like yourself again really mean a lot. I didn’t realise before what goes on here; I thought it was just where people come to die.”
John, who enjoys gardening and carpentry in his spare time, adds: “The hairdresser even gave me a trim the other day; I had no idea they would do things like that, and just brings some normality back to your life, to help you feel like a human being and not a patient.
“The nursing is second to none, and they do everything they can to get you through and cheer you up – even things like teaching you breathing exercises to help you feel calm. It’s absolutely fantastic.”
“We’re in awe of St Catherine’s really, and what a difference it’s made to our lives and our situation,” Eileen says. “It’s been a relief for the whole family in the end, knowing that John is in this wonderful place. It’s lifted a lot of pressure because we know he’s safe and comfortable and happy, and they’re looking after his wellbeing as well as managing his pain.
“St Catherine’s has not only helped us to come to terms with our situation and accept what’s happening, it has given us hope for the future as well. We know John’s illness can’t be cured but we still have things to aim for and things to look forward to. In a way, this place brings you back to life.”
- St Catherine’s Hospice is a charity which relies on the incredible support of the community to raise much-needed funds. If you would like to make a donation at this special time of year, please click here or call 01772 629171.
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