‘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.’