Caring for someone with a terminal illness

Keith & Pat ' Interview 29

Age at interview: 80

Brief outline: Last August, it was discovered that Keith's wife, Pat had a terminal brain tumour. Pat spent some time in a hospice and then returned home where Keith cared for her. Pat died in the November with her family around her.

Background: Keith is a widower with three adult children. He is a retired Director of Human Resources. Ethnic background' White British.

Audio & video

In early July last year Keith’s wife Pat was diagnosed with breast cancer and had an operation to remove cancerous tissue in the August. Shortly after the operation Keith describes how he knew that there was still something not quite right as he noticed that Pat was not as spontaneous as before and was becoming frustrated when she had trouble articulating herself. People told Keith that this was to be expected after an operation, but he maintained the belief that it was more serious than that. His suspicions were confirmed when Pat was taken back into hospital for further tests and she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The cancer had spread and she had a large tumour in her brain. Pat did not want any treatment as she felt prolonging her life by a few months was not worth the ordeal of treatment. Everybody respected and understood these wishes.

Once at home Keith had help and support from the GP, Macmillan nurses and his children while caring for Pat. He had no experience of caring responsibilities and found his new role as a carer very demanding. After about four weeks the GP and nurses recognised that he would struggle to continue care responsibilities and suggested that Pat moved into a hospice. Keith was very impressed with the hospice; he described how tasks were carried out with calm efficiency and the atmosphere was pleasant. Pat was happy and very well cared for there, however after a few weeks she decided she would like to return home. Keith was concerned as he realised how daunting and difficult providing care at home was going to be. However he realised how important it was to fulfil Pat’s wishes, which meant he knew he would find a way to cope.

Keith completely cleared a room and installed a hospital bed and equipment in preparation for Pat’s return. He describes how when she arrived home her spirits were instantly lifted. Keith often lacked confidence in his caring abilities as he believed he was ill-equipped and inexperienced. He was very relieved to have help from Macmillan nurses, the GP, district nurses and Marie Curie. Keith cannot fault the help he received and describes these health professionals as ‘amazing’. After a few weeks at home, Pat’s condition deteriorated and the GP warned them that Pat did not have long left to live. During this time their children took it in turns to stay at the house with Pat and Keith. One morning in November, Pat died with her daughter and Keith at her bedside.

Keith explains how everything happened very fast from Pat’s initial breast cancer diagnosis in July to her death in November. Although he never got to the point of desperation, he did find everything quite overbearing at times. After Pat’s death he became quite ill with shingles and now has on-going problems because of this. Keith describes times of humour and camaraderie during Pat’s care and believes this helped them to cope with the situation. Keith misses Pat very much and describes her as his ‘soul mate’.


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