Lesley Markham, aged 63, from Lincoln was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and was given just two years to live.
In 2012, Lesley underwent surgery to have her kidney removed after she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Despite a successful operation, just five months later in April 2013, a routine scan revealed Lesley had secondary liver cancer and she received the devastating news that she had just one or two years left to live.
Lesley recalled: “I wasn’t expecting to receive good news but I never expected to hear the word ‘terminal’ either. But with seven lesions on my liver and an even larger growth on my renal vein there was nothing more they could do. If they were to operate it was highly likely that I’d bleed to death.
“With no other options available to me I began palliative chemotherapy which is slowing the growth of the lesions. After all, I’m not ready to die yet. I still have things I want to do, people I’d like to meet and places I’d like to see. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lived a full life with no regrets but I’d like to have just a little more time.”
In May 2013, Lesley was introduced to St Barnabas Lincolnshire Hospice when she attended their Day Therapy Centre in Lincoln. It was with the help of the hospice that she began to plan for the end of her life.
Lesley said: “During my initial visit I began to work with the healthcare professionals to produce my Advanced Care Plan. In a nutshell this is a document that details what treatments I am happy to receive, where I would like to be cared for and ultimately where I would like to die.
“It really isn’t as morbid as it might sound and actually it has been a real comfort to me. I can be confident that, even if further down the line I am unable to communicate, my wishes will still be carried out. Having an Advanced Care Plan has taken away some of the uncertainty and has given me some control back.”
The Day Therapy Centre in Lincoln is one of eight across the county which specialise in providing care and support to people who are seriously ill and at the end of life.
“At first, when St Barnabas Lincolnshire Hospice was mentioned I couldn’t understand how they could help someone like me. I thought the hospice is for people who are dying isn’t it? I mean, I know I’m dying but I’m not bed ridden or anything.
“I couldn’t have been more wrong and was surprised to discover the wealth of activities and therapies that were available to me. I have taken Reiki and T’ai Chi classes to help with relaxation and have regular meetings with the Occupational Therapist who has improved my sleep and helped me to control my anxiety which had often resulted in me waking in the middle of the night panic stricken that I was going to die.”
Lesley continues: “One of the worse things about having terminal cancer is that I had to give up my working life which meant having cancer could have been an extremely lonely experience. That is the beauty of Day Therapy, I am able to socialise with people who are in a similar situation to my own and, best of all, we can have real and honest conversations that are free from pity.”
St Barnabas Lincolnshire Hospice is an independent charity that cares for more than 6,000 people annually who are seriously ill and at the end of life. Each year they must raise £3.4 million in order to continue their provision of services county-wide.
Lesley said: “We need this hospice. You never know what’s down the road for yourself or a family member and without it who would offer so much love at the end? You are more than just a statistic in a bed; you are treated with genuine care and respect and that is why people should continue to support the hospice in any way they can.”
In addition to accessing the services at St Barnabas Lincolnshire Hospice as a patient Lesley also volunteers on a weekly basis and provides the fundraising team with administration support.
Lesley said: “I applied to become a volunteer because of all that they were doing for me. I was desperate to give something back to the people and organisation that had helped me at a time when I needed it the most whilst I was still fit and able to do so. Volunteering has allowed me to return to the workplace with flexibility and an understanding that on the bad days I don’t have to go in.
“Meeting the people who work behind the scenes, so to speak, further confirmed to me what a wonderful place the hospice really is. I haven’t met a single person here who doesn’t care; in fact, the people here go beyond caring. They rejoice with you when something goes well and offer support when times get hard.”
Lesley concludes: “It’s like the hospice acts as your very own safety net, with arms open wide and a reassuring touch of the shoulder that says ‘don’t worry, we’ve got you.’”