Former Science Teacher Karen Ratcliffe was given the heartbreaking news in February 2015 that she had terminal kidney cancer.
Having battled breast cancer just two years earlier, this came as a massive shock to Karen and her husband Stephen. The diagnosis turned their world upside down.
“I had flu the previous November and then began to have pains in my hip, and that’s when the doctor sent me for physio, an MRI scan and bone density scan; and that’s when we found out how severe the cancer was,” Karen said.
“The reality is that it wouldn’t just be me affected, it was all of my close family and friends.”
After the diagnosis Karen decided that she wanted a celebration of life event, but even she couldn’t have imagined the overwhelming response she would have.
“I’d spoken to some of my friends and people I had worked with at my old school (where I taught), but I was so shocked at the response of how many people came along and the amount of food was like a banquet,” she said.
“Four of my old students even managed to get in touch and took me out for a tea at Frankie and Benny’s afterwards, which was just lovely as it showed how much they cared and how much they respected me when I worked with them.”
The 55 year old began to have visits from Louise Worrall, a Palliative Care Nurse Specialist from Douglas Macmillan Hospice. During their chats, she recommended Complementary Therapy as one of the treatment options available, not just for Karen, but for her husband.
Since March the couple have been coming along to the sessions with Co-ordinator Jacky Bush and Therapist Jackie Ayres.
Karen was initially sceptical of coming to Douglas Macmillan Hospice, as the last time she was here was when her father had passed away from leukaemia in 2003.
“I was quite afraid, but I found once I came in that it was so peaceful and calming,” Karen said.
The ‘Two Jackie’s’ as they are affectionately known around the Hospice, having been offering the complementary therapy service for patients, their partners and carers for 8 years now.
As Jacky Bush explained,
“A diagnosis, of any illness, has an impact not only on the person being diagnosed but also on their close family. This is why we offer this service to their main relative or carer.”
61 year old Stephen, from Blurton, has also found the treatment beneficial.
“It’s a time where you can re-charge your batteries, talk to someone else and just relax and know Karen is being looked after too,” Stephen told us.
It wasn’t just Karen’s life that was changed by her diagnosis; Stephen gave up his job as a Supervisor at a local Morrison’s branch to become her full time carer.
Stephen told us that Karen always sets three targets every day, and since her diagnosis she has so far only missed one day.
“I always said if I can get out of bed, have a shower and get dressed every day then I will be satisfied. But one day I didn’t feel like getting out of bed and my husband really rallied behind me and helped me,” she said.
The complementary therapy team offer treatments such as reflexology, Indian head massage and aromatherapy.
They have expanded the service since starting 8 years ago and now offer relative and carers treatments as well as offering treatments in patient’s own homes if they can’t make it to the Hospice due to their poorly condition.
Karen has come to know the Complementary Therapy team as friends over the last few months, saying,
“They’re both friends, when we come in we can talk to them about anything and the difference their treatment has made to my psychological wellbeing has been amazing.”
“This isn’t for my cancer, it’s for me.”