Caring for someone with a terminal illness

Fiona ' Interview 21

Age at interview: 55

Brief outline: Fiona's mother died of widespread cancer in 2009, aged 89. Fiona gave up work and devoted her time to caring for her mum at home.

Background: Fiona is married with no children. She works part time as a census coordinator. Ethnic background' White British.

Audio & video

In 2009 Fiona’s mum was diagnosed with widespread cancer at the age of 89. Fiona was surprised at this diagnosis because her mum had always been very healthy; she never smoked, had a healthy diet and took regular exercise. The cancer was now at the stage where it was terminal and she was expected to live for, at most, a few months. They chose not to put her mum through unnecessary tests to find where the primary cancer was, as this knowledge would have made little difference. Once her mother received the diagnosis, Fiona was keen to get her mother out of hospital. She did not believe the ward was sensitive to the needs of terminally ill patients and suspected that the staff were often too busy to give sufficient care. Fiona decided to care for her mum at home, because she had made it clear that was her preference and Fiona describes how her mum was quite particular and having her at home gave Fiona the freedom to tailor care to her specific needs.

Once at home, Fiona describes how her mother was even weaker that she had anticipated, and remembers how she felt disappointed when her mother decided she did not want to leave the house anymore. They knew that she did not have long to live and Fiona gave up work to make sure she could devote her time to caring for and spending time with her. In fact, she died about a month after being at home, which was even sooner than Fiona had expected. While caring for her mum at home Fiona remembers how the district nurses were ‘amazing’ as she could call them whenever and they made sure Fiona was prepared with equipment aids as her mother’s physical condition declined.

During this time Fiona was so focussed on caring for her mother that it was difficult to keep on top of other responsibilities such as household chores. She describes how the stress and exhaustion she felt sometimes made it difficult to make rational decisions. During this time, her husband worked away during the week, and Fiona ensured that she factored in some time to spend with him at weekends while her sister looked after their mother. This allowed her to have some respite from caring and meant she managed to spend time with her husband too.

Fiona set up a monitor in her mother’s room so she could hear if she needed care during the night. This meant that Fiona got little sleep and was very tired for much of the time during this period. Eventually, she asked the charity Marie Curie Cancer Care for help and they arranged for a nurse to care for her mum during the night. With hindsight, Fiona wishes she had asked for this service a lot sooner as it would have helped her a great deal. Eventually Fiona’s mother died during the night. Fiona describes how she felt comforted that she had died at home and it gave her and the family the time and privacy to say goodbye properly.



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