Marg and Ian's story

Ian Gray was only 55 when he died, three days before Christmas. His wife Marg, explains how the Rennie Grove Hospice at Home team supported Marg and their children Lauren (21) and Will (18) to enable Ian to die at home.

Marg's story

“I understand now why the Rennie Grove nurses get involved as soon as a patient receives a terminal prognosis. Amidst the shock of that news it made me feel like we’d already given up on him – like we were counting down to his death. But very soon I realised how much they can do early on. Their support ensured he kept on living his life – not waiting for his death, and with their reassurance I felt able to manage his meds.  We were juggling so much medication which feels such a responsibility – especially when you’re tired and scared – but the nurses were a massively calming influence. At times I felt like I was losing the plot – completely overwhelmed with worry. “You’re doing great” they’d say and that would give me the confidence to carry on.

Another aspect of the Rennie Grove service I didn’t know about is the liaison with other healthcare professionals.  It was so helpful as the nurses would meet with our GP or contact the consultant to ensure the right medication was always available and usually waiting so Ian did not have to go through the stress of waiting around at the surgery before meds could be given. They all work together so well. It took a lot of pressure off.

Ian’s cancer was first detected in December 2013. Although we feared the worst it wasn’t confirmed until January. Ultrasound and biopsies followed – before surgery in February. He then underwent 6 weeks of radiotherapy. Throughout all of this Ian remained focused and positive and had kept his mind busy working on a new koi pond project, which escalated, but with the help of many friends was completed in 7 weeks. Also doing as much as we could as a family was very important to him as well.

We were called back early following the post radiotherapy scan, and devastated upon being told that the cancer had already spread into his head and brain, despite the original site now being clear. Total shock and overwhelming despair filled us – and we sought second opinions, as we felt we couldn’t move on at all unless we’d made absolutely sure that there was nothing else that could be done. Upon having that confirmed, we met the Rennie Nurses who come into your lives very gently and calmly. It took us both a few weeks to accept the situation, which we now found ourselves in, but , then in his usual way….. No sitting around, but “Okay, let’s focus on what we can do” which was to have some very special times, including going out for our sons 18th birthday, we had a meal out mid-afternoon so it wouldn’t be as crowded and noisy, then hired a booth at the cinema where we were able to control the volume, as Ian couldn’t take much noise due to where the cancer had spread to. It must have been so tiring for him, but he never complained ever….. a totally amazing man, always being so strong for me and the children, he seemed to find the strength from somewhere for everybody else too. He never let on when he was really in pain, but I knew and so did the Rennie Nurses who monitored him and knew the signs so they were able to alter the meds as needed.

The day Ian took to his bed early was the day his body started shutting down and the Rennie nurses knew they had to act quickly. They just know the signs and what to look for and they were great. Upon making a call requesting a bed so he could be downstairs (where it was easier to care for him as we live in an old cottage) I was amazed to see it being delivered in just over an hour!

So there he was right next to our massive Christmas tree on one side and overlooking his koi pond on the other which was lit up at night. He was so proud of that pond, but said to me that he was sorry to have lumbered me with it now….. But it’s so very special to me as we met through fishing and it gives Lauren and Will another focal point for special memories of their dad as they’re in charge of monitoring it!

There is nothing you can do at this point (or any point from terminal diagnosis) except make it the best you can, and this is another massive plus to having the Rennie nurses on board from early prognosis, as by this time they are so familiar with the whole family that it just feels like you are having a  friend in for coffee (and cake!!) and on many occasions at crazy times like the very early hours of the morning, but they would come in with a smile and make things better, it was a huge sense of relief to see them. It just wouldn’t have been the same if they had not come on board until the end: it wouldn’t have felt right having a stranger intrude on such a private and personal time.

People say to me: “ How awful for you that it happened at Christmas” but I’m glad that it was at  Christmas rather than in a dismal, dark November or January. When there’s nothing else you can do, you just want to make it as pain free as possible. The Rennie nurses helped us to make something so bleak and horrible, a beautiful and special experience. It sounds bizarre to describe it like that, but we were all camped out in the living room with Ian, his beloved spaniel Woody ( who never left his side) on the bed , and our cat Marmite, also on the bed!

I can’t say it was a peaceful death, because his was an otherwise healthy 55 year old body and the nurses had warned us that this meant his breathing could be quite laboured towards the end. They knew exactly what information to impart and when; if they’d have told me everything at the start I’d never have coped, but as Ian’s illness progressed they gently and gradually gave us updates on what to expect, so you do cope. When his breathing changed I knew enough to realise what it meant, but when it changed again, a different noise accompanying each breath, I contacted the Rennie Grove nurses. They came straight out to provide more pain relief and make Ian more comfortable.

The nurses came soon after Ian died on 22 December and calmly and gently helped us with everything. He was the kindest, loveliest, happiest, bubbliest man. A few weeks before the cancer forced him to take to his bed, I remember him going on a final fishing trip with Will and his good friend Nick. It was a beautiful sunny November day and they all caught, he looked so happy and fulfilled in the photos of him with them and their catch! I’m so glad he had that last chance to do something he loved…..and I’m so glad that he had as good a quality of life as possible for as long as he did – and as pain free an end as possible. All thanks to the wonderful, caring, truly lovely Rennie Grove nurses."