Colin Campbell, 52, from Bexleyheath, spent 18 months caring for his partner Tracy Clifton following her diagnosis of a rare type of cancer. He says her final precious weeks when she was cared for in the hospice’s Inpatient Unit (IPU) were a real gift to the couple.
Tracy was a force of nature to those who loved her – someone with a natural spark and zest for life, who could strike up a conversation with a total stranger.
She loved nothing more than heading off on her next great adventure, had travelled all over the world, loved gardening, cooking and baking, meeting up with friends, and had enjoyed a long career in the rail industry. In fact, as her partner of 15 years Colin fondly recalls, there was ‘never enough time in her day’.
‘Tracy pushed me to do things I wouldn’t have, before I met her. My nickname for her was Dora the Explorer’, Colin tells us. ‘I was the calmer one, so we made a great team. ‘That’s why when Tracy, someone who had always been so healthy and active, was diagnosed with stage 4 rectal cancer, it came as a real shock. ‘It’s quite a rare cancer,’ Colin says. ‘It hadn’t spread but they could only try to shrink the tumour.
‘Tracy was put under the care of Kent Oncology Centre and for three months had chemotherapy followed by daily radiotherapy. Tracy’s was a cruel cancer, but from the start she was positive and never lost this outlook. Tracy was born with mild cerebral palsy so had always been a fighter, and her view was: ‘We’ll take this on and beat it.’ She was determined.’ Sadly the cancer didn’t fully respond to treatment and Tracy became progressively more ill and housebound.
It was also very challenging for Colin, who was now her main carer.
‘Becoming a carer changes your relationship but it’s just what you do for someone you love,’ he says. Thankfully the couple were referred to the hospice, and despite not knowing what to expect initially, went on to access life-changing support that transformed their quality of life in the last month they spent together. In fact, Colin says that the hospice’s incredible team helped Tracy to feel more like herself, the person ‘with a smile‘. One with a smile and happiness – not burdened by pain and illness.’ He continued: ‘We had a visit from the hospice doctor and the nurses and it gave us an insight into the incredible work they do.
From the start, the experience was about making Tracy’s life as good as it could be for as long as possible. ‘It was important that they were talking to us both. There was the recognition that it’s very hard for the patient’s partner too, that I was on my own journey.’ After suffering a couple of falls at home, Tracy spent some time on the hospice inpatient unit. ‘I got the old Tracy back for those weeks – that was the gift the hospice gave us’ Colin told us.
‘All the worry disappeared. We could relax and spend time together as a couple knowing Tracy’s care was taken care of. ‘Her room had a lovely view of the hospice’s sensory garden and as someone who was very green-fingered this was a massive deal. The staff were able to bring her out to enjoy sitting in the garden in the sunshine. ‘Tracy said it was the little things the hospice staff did for her that made the difference. They washed her hair and one of the volunteers did her nails and it made her feel so much better. The hospice focused on her wishes and care and made sure she was a central part of the process.
‘I went into the hospice every day and we’d sit and do a crossword together. Tracy’s parents, Les and Kay, could also visit her regularly. She came back to life in the hospice and in turn the reassurance the hospice brought to Tracy’s loved ones was like ripples on water – it touched so many people.
‘I have some wonderful memories to treasure, particularly the Jubilee Tea Party celebrations, where Tracy enjoyed being the centre of attention, eating the beautiful cakes and sandwiches made by the hospice and wearing her purple knitted HRH heart which now sits proudly on my desk at home as a daily reminder of some of those precious moments we enjoyed.’
When Tracy died, the hospice staff were very supportive, discussing what would happen with him, Colin tells us. ‘At the hospice the team build a bond of friendship with their patients, and the families too. The care they offer means you can concentrate on what’s really important. ‘The hospice managed to give me back the old Tracy I knew and loved and I’ll never be able to thank them enough. Thanks to them, even at the end she was enjoying her life.’