Ann was looking forward to a fresh start with her husband, Ian when she moved to the High Peak from Stockport in February 2018. As they struggled to relocate furniture and belongings during the relentless Beast from the East, Ann became unwell with a sore throat, aches and pains, and she discovered she had shingles.

Ann with husband, Ian

After some time off work whilst moving house and being unwell, Ann went for a regular mammogram check-up at Macclesfield District General Hospital and within two weeks she found out that she had a 4.5cm tumour in her breast.

Ann had a mastectomy in May 2018, and though the operation went well, she then had to undergo nine weeks of chemotherapy to kill off small traces of the cancerous cells still in her lymph glands.

The Chapel-en-le-Frith resident explains: ‘My best friend Margaret moved to the new housing estate in Chapel and after a few visits to her and some discussions with my husband, we decided to make the move too so that we could be closer to the countryside. We were really looking forward to a fresh start and to enjoying our new life in the High Peak. My breast cancer diagnosis a few weeks after the move changed our lives.

‘After undergoing my operation and chemo, my boss and friend, Anne-Marie told me about Blythe House and encouraged me to find out more. I had the total wrong impression of the hospice and thought it was a little hospital where people came to die. I was incredibly nervous; I am not a confident person anyway, but especially being in a new area with only a few friends.

‘One day I was at home on my own as my husband was out at work and I decided to have a walk round to Blythe House. I was milling around outside too frightened to go in and one of the nurses, Liza, was walking in behind me and asked if she could help. She brought me through the doors and from that day on, it is the best thing I ever did. My husband could not believe I had the courage to walk round here in the first place!

‘Everyone here is such a big part of my life; if I hadn’t have come to Blythe House, I would have been in a different place. We all have different experiences and diagnoses but we can all chat and relate to each other. Coming here has changed me as a person; at one stage I wouldn’t have even spoken to share my story.’

Ann’s friend Margaret

Ann is due to go back to work in pharmacy production at Stepping Hill Hospital in April, as she continues her recovery and her prognosis looks good.

She says: ‘Blythe House has been a big part of my life and I’m going to miss so many people. I’ll continue to come to the monthly coffee mornings and attend the Breast Friends support group, to be able to support the hospice and catch up with friends.

‘I also hope to raise money alongside Margaret and my two sons, Mark and Adam. Last year, Margaret did a 26 mile sponsored walk and split the money between great causes, including Blythe House.’

Without Blythe House I believe I would still have no confidence or self-belief; since coming here, all my family and friends have seen major improvements in me

Jennie Howe has always supported Blythe House through donating or attending monthly coffee mornings because, she says: ‘You never know when you might need the hospice services yourself.’

That outlook became a reality for Jennie in February 2018 when her life was ‘turned upside down’ after she found out that she had a brain tumour. The local resident was a district carer across the High Peak for 30 years and worked a midday supervisor at Chapel-en-le-Frith High School before her diagnosis.

The mum of three explained: ‘I had been experiencing head and ear aches for a while but one morning I woke up and I couldn’t see straight. I went downstairs and my daughter told me that I was shouting and screaming at something that just wasn’t there. I offered to drive her to work but she insisted that we went to the doctor. I got an appointment but the doctor told me to get straight to Macclesfield District General Hospital, and by 11am that morning, I found out I had a brain tumour.

Jennie with Lorna, Living Well Service Support Worker

‘I was absolutely petrified when I found out, it literally turned my life upside down. I had to undergo major surgery to have some of the tumour removed; the surgeon could not take it all, because of its worrying position in my brain. I have lost sight in one eye and have also lost my ability to walk properly.

‘After all this I was at the lowest I have ever been. I started to come along to Blythe House just before Christmas 2018 and it has been a life saver for me. At first I was very nervous about attending, but after the first few seconds of walking through the door on my first day the nerves completely disappeared and have never returned.

‘I love getting involved in the activities, including arts and crafts, and have done things that I never would have done had I not have come to Blythe House. The group was making dishes made out of buttons, and so I went home and created my own coasters and mats made out of buttons – my daughter was so impressed. I made my own Christmas cards last year, after being inspired here at Blythe.

‘I also enjoy having reiki [a form of alternative medicine called energy healing]. I lost feeling down the right side of my face following the operation, but after a reiki session I can touch and feel senses in my cheek, and if my right eye waters, I can feel the tears running down it.

‘Without Blythe House I believe I would still have no confidence or self-belief; since coming here, all my family and friends have seen major improvements in me. I owe everyone at Blythe House a great deal of thanks and I feel like we are all one big family.’

Life unravelled for Alison when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2017, and her father had also been diagnosed with cancer.  After hearing about Blythe House through a close friend, she wanted to find out about accessing support services.

Alison admits that she cried throughout her whole first appointment at Blythe House in September 2017 after having a mastectomy the month before. But the hospice has helped to support her ‘practically, emotionally and creatively’ and after that initial visit, Alison says: ‘It was the first time I’d felt good about myself in a long time.’

Now, with a positive outlook on her prognosis, Alison was discharged from the hospice’s Living Well Service in February 2019. But it’s certainly not goodbye!

The Buxton resident, who worked in a local school, explains: ‘When I found out I had breast cancer, one of my first thoughts was that I could not give up work as I was halfway through a term! When I left on the last day of term, I put an ‘out of office’ response on my emails saying that I wouldn’t be back at the start of the new term, but I’d be back a few weeks late. I thought I’d just be off for a few weeks; but life changed dramatically with all these things that I just wasn’t expecting.

‘Coming to Blythe House, I have been able to meet and chat to staff, volunteers and other service users about my circumstances and what I was going through. Doing this really helped to normalise the situation; on one or two occasions I thought I was going mad! But my time at Blythe House made me realise that I was alright and that I wasn’t going crazy; other people were in the same boat too.’

Alison had further surgery in June 2018. She explains: ‘As well as dealing with my own prognosis and the side effects of the cancer and medication, my Dad was also very unwell too. After my mastectomy, I was told that my outlook looked good.  My Dad’s cancer was not curable, and after spending time at Ashgate Hospice he died on my birthday in summer 2018.

‘I had counselling at Blythe House, initially about my own health but as Dad’s condition deteriorated, I found that life just unravelled. The counselling gave me an opportunity to talk about my thoughts and feelings.

‘Having never picked up a paint brush in my life before, I now regularly paint at home and have created some pieces of art that I’m proud of as a result of taking part in arts and crafts here at Blythe House. I got involved in the writing group and although the weekly sessions at the hospice came to the end of the programme, myself and other members of the group have continued to meet in our own homes to write, chat and share experiences together.

‘I also accessed other services through Blythe House including reiki, reflexology and financial advice after I gave up work. The hospice has given me the tools that I need to take forward and continue in life.

Alison with daughter, Rachel before the Jingle Bell Jog 2018

‘I still attend The Christie hospital for check-ups but my prognosis is good and my outlook is looking much more positive. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I hadn’t come to Blythe House; I can say I certainly wouldn’t be the person that I am today. I will continue to support the hospice through the monthly coffee mornings where I’ll be able to come and see familiar faces and catch up. I also hope to take part in future fundraising events. I did the Jingle Bell Jog in December 2018 with very good friends; we came last but we did it – it was an amazing and uplifting day!’

‘I don’t usually go any further than my front room, but it’s so nice to have company and friendship’

Rural High Peak resident Keith was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, and, after a fall at home in September 2018, he found out that the disease had advanced and spread to his hips.

Back at home after time in and out of hospitals, the former lorry driver was referred to Blythe House for support and friendship, which is when he met Dave.

Dave Jenner, from Grindleford, is a community volunteer with Blythe House, which sees him heading out to patient’s homes across the borough to spend time with them and offer support.

Keith said: ‘Dave comes round to my house every week; sometimes we just sit and chat, other times we might go on a walk or he’ll help with small jobs around the house. He’s a grand chap; a gentle giant with a lovely personality, and nothing is too much trouble. I don’t usually go any further than my front room, but it’s so nice to have company and friendship. On one of his visits, Dave mentioned that he needed to drop some rubbish off at the tip, and so we went together for a ride out in the car; it was great to get out of the house for a while.

‘My wife Lucy benefited from Blythe House services when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. She was a very keen supporter of the hospice and always got involved in helping to organise or contribute towards events. Lucy died in 2008 and Blythe House was on hand to offer advice and support. If anyone in the family needed any help, Blythe House was the place to go.’

Dave retired in 2012 after a career in public health research and statistics. He explained: ‘Retirement has given me more time for music as I play in a band, reading, walking in the Peak District, working on the land as I look after a bit of woodland, and of course, volunteering!

‘I think palliative care and the work of hospices is very important and I’m glad that it is increasingly being recognised. I have witnessed friends and my late wife benefiting from marvellous end-of-life care. When I saw information about the community volunteer project at Blythe House in the local newspaper, it sounded just my thing.

‘I have visited a number of Blythe House Hospicecare patients and service users in their homes, mainly for companionship and conversation but also for practical help, such as shopping and getting to GP appointments.

‘Vicci and Julie, the project co-ordinators, give you plenty of support, encouragement and feedback. It’s a well-run effort. I enjoyed our training and enjoy our regular team meetings with fellow volunteers. It’s satisfying to feel that you have had some positive impact on someone’s day. People are interesting. All the patients that I’ve visited have interesting stories to tell and in each case I have enjoyed listening to them.’

Keith’s daughter, Karen added: ‘When Dad came out of hospital, we really needed to coordinate a care package, including organising for a commode and a proper hospital bed to be put downstairs, as well as a stair lift. Blythe House really helped with this organisation, we got straight answers from them. We received the same positive response when Mum was poorly too. Dad lives in such a rural place, he can’t get out on his own; it makes such a big and positive difference to me, knowing that Dad has got friends and is being taken care of, by people from a very trusted place.’

March is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, organised by Prostate Cancer UK to raise awareness of the most common cancer in men.

Did you know that in the UK, about 1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer at some point in their lives?

Only men have a prostate gland. The prostate is usually the size and shape of a walnut and grows bigger as you get older. It sits underneath the bladder and surrounds the urethra – the tube men urinate (wee) and ejaculate through.

Prostate cancer can develop when cells in the prostate start to grow in an uncontrolled way. Prostate cancer often grows slowly to start with and may never cause any problems. But some men have prostate cancer that is more likely to spread. This needs treatment to stop it spreading outside the prostate.

Mike Harrison set up the High Peak Prostate Cancer Support Group at Blythe House in 2010, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer three years earlier.

The Chapel-en-le-Frith resident says: ‘I was 65 when I went to my local doctor who seemed to know the signs of prostate cancer and I had a blood test. Soon after, I was referred to Stepping Hill Hospital where I was diagnosed.

‘I felt very isolated and alone. I didn’t know about the disease or about treatments, and I found it very difficult to get information and advice. I underwent an operation in June 2007 to remove my prostate, and my wife and I went on a two-month cruise in early 2008 to enjoy some time together. It was around the same time that I decided that I would like to do something locally to provide information and support to people so they wouldn’t feel as lonely as I did.

‘I went along to a support group at The Christie in Manchester and sought advice from friends and the High Peak CVS. Then, in early 2010, I was attending an information event for the over 50s at the Octagon in Buxton when I met Ann [Burgoyne] from Blythe House Hospicecare and from that chat, the group was formed!

‘We have a great turnout every month, with around 20 people attending on average; a mixture of patients, their wives, girlfriends, partners and carers. We arrange for speakers to attend including from the medical profession to talk about the latest research into prostate cancer, medical trials, treatments and drugs, as well as topics like exercise and diet.

‘The group really does take the sting and fear out of cancer diagnosis. There will always be someone there with a different experience who can provide advice and friendship. When new people come along to attend, I can see the relief in their faces as we sit in our circle of friends to discuss and laugh together. They realise that this isn’t a death sentence, this is a question of living with prostate cancer, rather than dying from.

‘By attending the group, people have been able to discover and enjoy other services at Blythe House including mindfulness therapy and counselling. As well as friendship and fun, there’s also a serious side to the group and we’re proud to have supported medical research into prostate cancer, and worked with regional and national groups and charities to lobby for better services and regular, routine screening for men over 50.’

Group members worked alongside the regional Prostate Cancer Support North West group to successfully lobby for action when it was announced that prostate cancer services might be moved from Stepping Hill Hospital several years ago. They also liaise closely with the national charity for prostate cancer patients, Tackle, which in turn works with Prostate Cancer UK.

Mike continues: ‘It is a man’s right to ask for a screening test every two years when they’re over 50; and over 45 for ethnic minority groups. Prostate cancer for many men is symptomless and so some people may not find out about it until it’s too late. You are 2.5 times more likely to get it if your father or brother had it or if your mother has had breast cancer.

‘These worrying facts show that men really need to be opening up and talking about their health. The trouble with us is that we have a stiff upper lip and think, “Oh I’ll get over that!” But we need to get men talking and to raise awareness; we are the worst advocates for our own health.

‘The High Peak Cancer Support Group is open to everyone who is affected by prostate cancer. We are here to educate, advise, support, be your friend and ensure you live well for longer with prostate cancer, and you are more than welcome to attend!’

The group takes place on the fourth Tuesday of every month, from 5-7pm at Blythe House Hospicecare. Upcoming meetings:

  • Tuesday 26th March
  • Tuesday 23rd April

Learn more about the High Peak Cancer Support Group on its dedicated website.

Find lots of information and helpful advice:

A book written by a Blythe House Hospicecare patient is now available to read online.

Paul Harris, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in July 2015, has penned the book alongside close friend, Matt Hewitt.

The pair met in the playground of their children’s school in Disley many years ago and got to know each other through a joint enjoyment of the same type of literature, playing chess and drinking red wine.

Back in 2013, Paul and Matt decided to put pen to paper, and started work on the dark fantasy collection of short stories and poems ‘Dreams of Morpheus.’

Halfway through the writing stage, Paul received the ‘mind numbing’ news that he had rare neurological condition, motor neurone disease and was referred to Blythe House Hospicecare, where he’s been receiving care and support since November 2015.

Former long distance runner, Paul, explains: ‘I had taken part in a marathon in Staffordshire in March that year, and noticed that I was struggling to get my water bottles out of their pouches, my arms didn’t seem to be working. There were other worries that were getting more noticeable and so I went to my doctor in May who referred me to a neurologist at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust. I had just started a new job when I received the mind-numbing news that I had motor neurone disease and I had to leave through ill-health.

Matt and Paul in 2014, a year before Paul’s diagnosis

‘I started coming along to the Living Well Service at Blythe House every Tuesday and really enjoy my time here. I have complimentary therapies including massages, reflexology, reiki and aromatherapy, which are such great services and really make me feel much better.  I enjoy getting to see people and having lunch together. The afternoon mindfulness sessions are very useful in helping me to come to terms with the mental health aspects of the disease, and I enjoy hearing from other patients too as we share our stories.

‘The Hospice at Home healthcare assistants also visit me at my home three times per day to provide care and assistance. I feel that physiotherapy sessions with Tina Betts and massage therapy with Cathy Grange have definitely helped in slowing down the progression of the disease.’

The idea for Dreams of Morpheus stemmed from Paul’s thought-provoking background. He has always had an interest in dark fantasy, especially Norse mythology, Greek myths and legends, after gaining a Masters in Theology from the University of Manchester.

Paul says: ‘Matt and I had diverse ideas for the book but we worked together closely enhancing each other’s work. Writing has been a nice diversion and a great hobby for me; it has taken me away from having to think about my condition all of the time. It is my first published book so I am really very excited. So far, feedback has been very good too.’

The book is aimed at people who perhaps have some spare time to read shorter tales, for example in coffee shops or attending appointments, and might be of interest to readers who wish to take a break from full-length novels.

In the acknowledgements section of the book, Paul comments: ‘Since my diagnosis at the age of 41, I have been overwhelmed by the many acts of kindness and support that people have freely given to me and my family.

‘Thank you to everyone connected with Blythe House, I genuinely have so much gratitude for your help and support over the years. This has undoubtedly made a huge difference to my quality of life and that of my family.’

Paul with his wife and daughters

Now Paul’s daughters, Madelyn, 14, and Elloise, 11, are hoping to raise vital funds for Blythe House as a way to say thank you for their Dad’s care. They have received a fundraising pack for the hospice’s 30th anniversary, to give them some inspiration for their own fundraising initiatives. A few years ago, Madelyn undertook a sponsored silence in aid of the MND Association, to raise awareness of how motor neurone disease affects the vocal chords and the ability to speak.

Paul’s book is available to download via Smashwords and Amazon – you can also find out more by visiting the Facebook page.

For more information about supporting Blythe House or to request a 30th anniversary fundraising pack, please email: fundraising@blythehouse.co.uk.

David-and-Sandra-Blythe

Sue Kennedy became aware of Blythe House Hospicecare through her role as head teacher at Hague Bar Primary School since 2009, after both colleagues and pupils have accessed specialist services here. But it was in October 2017 when Blythe House’s Hospice at Home service became a ‘God send’ to Sue’s family, after her dad, David Blythe, was diagnosed with both liver and bowel cancer.

The Disley resident explains: ‘Dad was diagnosed with cancer in August 2017 after frequently having dizzy spells and losing his appetite. My husband, Alan called me one day and said he was concerned as Dad had become very dizzy whilst they were out in the garden together. Dad underwent one round of chemotherapy which literally knocked him off his feet, and so he was unable to have any more treatment.

Helen, David and Sue

‘Dad was referred to Blythe House’s Hospice at Home service via our local palliative care nurses, as the family needed extra support to care for him through the nights. At first, my sister, Helen and I were staying with Dad but it became too much the more and more unwell he became. Sam [Hanley, Hospice at Home Coordinator] was a God send to the family; she worked to create a timetable of care throughout the nights with a series of carers, alongside a private care company that was also providing services. Sam worked to fill the gaps in care that the private company couldn’t offer, or when they let us down, she’d say “leave it with me!” Blythe House was like our security blanket, it never let us down.

‘As well as supporting Dad, the healthcare assistants were so easy to talk to, they became very good company for my Mum as well, who like me, is a bit of a night owl so would sit with them and chat through the night. One of the Hospice at Home healthcare assistants in particular, Kevin, was amazing! My Dad was a very proud man, and the loss of dignity he faced throughout his illness was hard for him. Kevin never let that be a problem; he was so approachable, professional, caring and funny – even given the circumstances, he’d make us all laugh.

‘Kevin spent New Year’s Eve 2018 with us, we wanted to make the occasion as normal as possible for Dad, so we had a little party; he became like one of the family, we couldn’t have done it without him. The last memorable conversation I remember Dad having with Kevin was the day that Ken Dodd died on 11 March 2018, Dad was telling him all about his memories of Ken Dodd. Kevin helped put Dad to bed in the lounge that day, and he didn’t get out of it again. When Dad died four days later, Kevin came along to his funeral. He still texts the family regularly to keep in contact and see how we’re getting on.

David-and-Sandra-Blythe

Sues Mum and Dad

‘Since Dad’s death, it’s been incredibly hard for the family, especially my Mum. They would’ve been together for 60 years in June 2018, but he sadly died two months earlier. Blythe House has been in contact with us since Dad died, with friendly advice and offering services including counselling. At the time Mum wouldn’t even think about it, but now I think as time goes on, she is coming around to the idea. Rachel [Jennings, Counsellor] called me to chat and it was as if she had all the time in the world to talk and offer reassurance for the way mum is feeling now.

‘Mum has moved into a local retirement residential home since Dad’s death, and we have put their house on the market. We have donated good-quality items including Dad’s clothes and some furniture, to Blythe House’s Whaley Bridge department store. It’s our way of giving something back for the wonderful care we’ve received. Ironically, Mum and Dad have made an annual donation to Blythe House all of their lives, so they have always supported their local hospice and it was there for us when we truly needed it.’

John’s wife Charlotte came to Blythe House after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015, and the Hospice at Home service supported the couple in their home, in the last weeks of Charlotte’s life. John, who is now a Chelsea Pensioner, says: ‘I cannot find words to express my admiration and thanks for this marvellous service. Loving, compassionate and caring, it enabled me to spend the last moments with my darling wife, with her in my arms. For that you have my eternal gratitude.

‘To put into words what Blythe House has meant and continues to mean to me is not easy – it goes into the heart of my emotion and grieving. My wife Charlotte was diagnosed with ovarian cancer three years ago, and began the long process of chemotherapy treatment. We registered Charlotte at Blythe House it was the best thing we ever did. From her first visit she really enjoyed her time there, and the staff and people she met. I was happy that she was connected to such a wonderful place, an oasis of calm, friendly and compassionate professionalism. Charlotte really looked forward to her visits. The lovely people she met there helped her to keep positive and in good spirits. Her illness initially responded into a brief remission, enabling us to have a nice holiday, but then her cancer returned.

‘This was when Hospice at Home was offered and for us it was a godsend. Until then I had looked after all of Charlotte’s care and needs, but after so long I was beginning to get tired. Eventually I accepted their help, and from the outset it was marvellous. The sitters allowed me to get some rest, all of the wonderful carers who came to our home were kind, helpful and professional and nothing was too much trouble. Eventually, as Charlotte became weaker, the Hospice at Home manager, Ruth, kept in daily contact with me and increased the service provision as required.

‘Then, inevitably, one morning my beautiful wife of 54 years slipped peacefully away with me by her side, as it was meant to be. The wonderful Hospice at Home nurse who had been with us throughout the night, stayed with us for several more hours, holding my hand in my grief. The total compassion and kindness shown to us on that day is something that I will never forget.’