Caring for someone with a terminal illness

David & Fiona ' Interview 35

Age at interview: 43

Brief outline: In July 2006 David's wife, Fiona, was aged 40. It was a shock when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She had chemotherapy, which was not effective. She also tried alternative therapies. She died in December 2006. Her death was 'largely peaceful'.

Background: David is a hydrologist (senior consultant). He is a widower and has two children. Ethnic background/Nationality' White British.

Audio & video

In 2006, David’s wife, Fiona, experienced pain in her back and in her upper abdomen. Previously she had suffered from colitis, so at first she assumed that these pains were due to that. She went to see her GP, who thought the pain might be due to an ulcer, and who prescribed some medicine to treat that. After a while David could see that Fiona was in considerable pain, so he ‘frog marched’ her down to the local hospital for more investigations. At this stage Fiona began to look a bit jaundiced.

Fiona had various scans and an endoscopy, during which the doctor inserted a stent into her bile duct to relieve a blockage. This also relieved the jaundice. Initially doctors thought that the problem was due to an abnormality in the gall bladder, but it soon became apparent that there was another problem. The doctor told Fiona and David that they had found a ‘growth’, which was probably a cancer. This was shocking news. Fiona and David found it incredibly difficult to tell their young sons that Fiona had cancer, but they were sure that this was the right thing to do. They wanted to involve their sons at every stage of Fiona’s illness.

Fiona wanted to know exactly what her treatment options were. She wanted plenty of information. She learnt that surgery was impossible because the cancer had spread beyond the pancreas. In August 2006 she started chemotherapy. After three months it became clear that this treatment was not shrinking the tumour. Fiona had the option of taking part in a clinical trial, but she decided not to do so. David thinks this may have been because Fiona wanted an element of control and sense of dignity at the end of her life.

By November 2006 Fiona had lost a lot of weight, she was very tired and needed strong painkillers. However, she was mentally very alert and could make her own treatment decisions. She tried a range of complementary treatments, such as hypnosis, positive thinking, special diets and various vitamins and minerals.

Fiona was keen to stay at home as long as possible. Family, friends, local nurses, the Macmillan nurse and the GP all helped in her care. About a week before she died Fiona moved to the local hospice. The health professionals there helped with pain control and other aspects of her care. At this stage Fiona felt that the hospice was the best place for her. The atmosphere was calm, relaxed and friendly, and visitors could stay at any time during the night or day. Fiona passed away on 6th December 2006. Her death was ‘largely peaceful’. In some ways David felt glad when Fiona passed away because he felt that at last she was at rest. However, he felt devastated and still feels tremendous pain because he misses her so dreadfully. He feels a huge sense of loss.

Fiona helped to plan her own funeral, which was well attended by family and friends. She was buried in the local cemetery. David and the boys have wonderful memories of Fiona. Now, three and a half years on, their memories and their discussions about Fiona do not monopolise every moment of the day. The boys have memory boxes, which they sometimes open when they miss their Mum.

From the time Fiona was diagnosed with cancer David found that friends and family really wanted to help and that they still want to help whenever he asks for assistance. He recommends that other people in his situation ask for help when they need it.


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