Ruth’s husband Andrew was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 2011, three years after he had retired. Andrew’s cancer progressed quickly and he died in 2012. In his final week, Ruth looked after Andrew in their home in Yorkshire.

Photo of Ruth and Andrew

Ruth's experience

Andrew was in the hospital with a spinal cord compression and we talked about where he could be looked after. We decided that home would be best – I was able to look after him with help from carers and it would mean people could come and visit.

I spoke to the doctor and nurse about what I needed to do so that Andrew could come home. I converted our lounge into Andrew’s bedroom – I sorted out a bed, blinds for the windows, and put furniture into storage.

Making a to-do list and sorting things out made me feel that I had control over some aspects of his care.

Andrew's final week at home

It was a very busy and happy house in the final week. Friends and family visited every morning and evening. Andrew and I rested in between.

It was a very busy and happy house in the final week.

Andrew was paralysed from his spinal cord compression, so his needs were quite complicated. We had carers come in four times a day to clean and move Andrew. And every afternoon, the district nurses would come in. They would check on Andrew and see how he was doing. And they would sit and talk to me and see how I was.

The district nurses left a box of drugs in our house. They explained to us that they would give Andrew these drugs if his current drugs weren’t able to control his pain. It made me realise that he would actually die soon. But it also reassured me that the nurses were prepared and knew what they were doing.

By then, we had come to terms with things. Andrew turned to me one day and said, “I’m not frightened of dying, I just don’t want to leave you.”

Andrew turned to me one day and said, “I’m not frightened of dying, I just don’t want to leave you.”

 

The last 24 hours

Andrew deteriorated very quickly one night and was very ill for the last 24 hours.

I rang the district nurse and she came out to check on him. By this time, I knew the nurse well so it was very reassuring to see a familiar face. The nurse arranged for Andrew’s GP to come and visit.

The GP explained to me that Andrew was likely to die very soon. I called a family member and told them that Andrew was slipping away. I asked them to let other family members know so that I didn’t have to call around.

The GP explained to me that Andrew was likely to die very soon.

During that last day, the nurses came and visited us every two hours. One stayed for two hours after her shift ended – she made me a cup of tea and just sat with me.

Towards the end, the district nurse filled a syringe driver and placed it in Andrew’s arm. It gave out a steady flow of drugs so that there weren’t any breaks in Andrew’s pain control or times when the drugs were wearing off. The drugs helped control pain and sickness.

Andrew died in his sleep. It was very calm.

Moving forward

There have been times when I feel like I’m moving forward and times when I’ve felt very down. I’ve tried to accept all of the feelings and allow myself to grieve.

Four months after Andrew died, our local hospice called to see how I was doing and offer bereavement counselling. At the time I was planning my first holiday without Andrew, so thought I was doing ok. Counselling wasn’t something I’ve felt like I need, but it’s good to know it’s there.

Getting back to work really helped me move forward. It helped to give my day a routine and a purpose. And my business partner was very supportive and understanding.

Getting back to work helped to give my day a routine and a purpose.

Some of my friends have been wonderful and are people I can really talk to. But some people said, “If I can help, just call.” And then I never heard from them again. I suppose some people find it difficult to cope with death themselves.

My tips for family and friends

  • Get the right care for you. It can be difficult to negotiate what care you can get at home, but having carers and nurses coming in made all the difference for us – it was so reassuring.
  • Let the experts deal with the medical issues. It was quite difficult knowing that things were out of my hands, but it was a relief to know that Andrew was being looked after by experienced nurses and carers.
  • Acknowledge your feelings. After Andrew died, I tried to accept the difficult things I was feeling and be aware of them. It helped to know how I was doing and when I needed support from people around me.

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