On Sunday 15th October 2017 thousands of runners took part in the Great West Run half marathon in Exeter and amongst them was a team of runners from Hospiscare. TeamHospiscare35 was initiated by Dr Becky Baines and Dr Jenny Hayes. Both work at Hospiscare and wanted friends, families, colleagues and supporters to run together to celebrate the organisation’s 35th anniversary, raise awareness and fundraise on behalf of the local charity.
One member of the team, Emma Gray, 40 from East Devon, had a very personal reason for running with TeamHospiscare35.
Emma explained: “Last year on 11th July, my husband Simon died at Hospiscare in Exeter. He was only 38 years old. Simon had metastatic oesophageal cancer and he had been poorly for almost four years.
“Hospiscare was amazing with the support that they gave us. Simon was very unwell just after his diagnosis in January 2014, and we were immediately referred to the charity. We had support at home from Community Clinical Nurse Specialist Jayne Bramley, which was invaluable.
“After a harsh course of chemotherapy and some consolidation radiotherapy, Simon was well enough to be signed off from Hospiscare. Although Simon still had cancer, he felt better and we did a bucket list of activities and holidays with our daughters. What most people don’t realise is that Hospiscare is not just somewhere people go to die. It is a place that supports an individual to live their life as well as possible in difficult circumstances. The expert symptom control from the Hospiscare team meant that we could try our best to get on with our normal family life knowing that Simon was as comfortable as possible.
“It’s only since Simon died that I have had time to reflect on how hard these past years have been. It takes time to really process this kind of grief, some of which was done whilst Simon was alive and some in the weeks and months since then. No one knows how they will cope with grief until they are there. Although I was lucky with lots of support from friends, family and charities, I have had to find my own route through it.
“The year of ‘firsts’ was tough, this was the first year of various significant dates. The first set of birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas Day, Valentine’s Day and so on. These were so difficult to deal with but each person affected had to find his or her own way of getting through. The ripple effect of Simon’s death has been far wider than I ever imagined possible.
“Simon and I have two daughters aged nine and seven years old. Whilst Simon was still alive, I had an idea that after he died I would try and get away from everything. I wanted to run away with our girls. So this summer we went on an epic six-week adventurous holiday. I went offline, ditched social media, packed up the car and took the girls on a road trip around Scotland. We travelled over 2,600 miles!
“The road trip has been a pivotal turning point. The thinking time and quality moments with the girls has revolutionised my life. It gave me time to truly be with the girls without any distractions. I had every evening to process what has happened to us, as well as the impact on the girls, my job and life in general. Since our holiday I have felt liberated. I feel like I am now carving out the best possible life for the girls and me, which has resulted in big changes in all areas of my life.
“Simon used to say to me that I must ensure that I tried to kick on, live my life and be happy. The one phrase that sticks with me is that he said: ‘The quicker you are happy, the quicker the girls will be happy’. I now know how true that is, you have to look after yourself in order to be able to look after other people. We have learnt in a cruel way how mortal human beings are.
“I have two messages that I would like to give people in a similar position. The first is something that a family counsellor told me, which is that grief is a process. You may not understand it, but you have to trust that you will come through it. When you have good days, try not to feel guilty, let yourself enjoy them and spread some sunshine. On the flip side, when the bad times hit you, which they will, please trust that at some point you will pull through. There will be days where you feel as though you are wading through treacle, or you are unbelievably sad and emotional. However, the moment will pass and you will, at some point, wake up on a different day when life will seem easier.
“The second message is to be honest with yourself when you are struggling and accept help when it is given. This is something that I still struggle with. I am rubbish at accepting help when it is offered up on a plate, let alone asking for help. However, I am aware that people desperately want to help and you must allow them to, however big or small the offer is. I am still trying to get better at saying yes and accepting support from the people around me, but in doing so I have learnt how much easier it makes life.
“When Dr Becky approached me asking if I wanted to join TeamHospiscare35 for the Great West Run it gave me a focus to train for. Over the years I have discovered that I get grumpy when I don’t exercise, which then affects how I am around my girls. The training for the Great West Run has reminded me that exercise helps put me in the right headspace and I love the feel-good endorphins that are released.
“I still find that grief comes in waves and I have no idea if, or when, I am going to be hit by another one. I thought that running with the doctors and nurses who cared for Simon might hit me hard. I knew that Petra, one of the nurses who works on the ward in Exeter, was running the Great West Run as part of TeamHospiscare35. Petra was with us when Simon died and she was an absolute rock for me to lean on. I was surprised that on the day of the run a wave of grief didn’t hit me. Instead the event turned out to be cathartic for me. It was a really happy, smiley day and being in a Hospiscare running vest supported by our girls and some friends was brilliant. The crowd were great, cheering everybody on, especially those raising money for charity. It was an amazing event, and I hope that I can join Dr Becky again next year to repeat the experience.
“Despite my words about the benefit of challenges, I would finally like to add a health warning that you should not set too many goals. To anyone in a similar situation I would say, please learn your own limits, trust your own judgement and believe that however tragic the cards are that fate deals you, good can still come out of the darkest times.”
Donations to TeamHospiscare35 can be made here.
Hospiscare is a local adult hospice charity, providing free, high quality care and support to people with any type of terminal illness, and those close to them, in Exeter, Mid and East Devon. A gift to Hospiscare in your Will helps to ensure the future of the charity in Devon for generations to come.