When Deirdre was admitted to Highland Hospice, things were set into motion quickly so that she could see her only daughter Kim get married. Deirdre’s sister Isanne (Izzi) shares her family’s experience of hospice care.
“Deirdre’s illness progressed very quickly. She only started to show symptoms in June 2022, having found a lump on her neck. She had a needle biopsy followed by an incisional biopsy, and was eventually diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer. They discovered a tumour which had grown around her wind pipe resulting in her being put on a ventilator.
This was really distressing for the whole family. Because of how aggressive the cancer was, it was too dangerous to operate and nobody with this type of cancer in the UK who had received radiotherapy over the past year had survived.
We were all so sad for Deirdre, who was just 61. Her only daughter Kim was 20, and her granddaughter Bella almost a year old. With Deirdre on a ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit of Raigmore Hospital, she was allowed just one visitor and so Kim went to see her every day for a week. We were then all called to the hospital as a decision had to be made about removing the ventilation. We were all prepared for the very worst, but agreed that the decision should only be made by Deirdre. Although she couldn’t speak, we were able to get her to communicate through a letter board. It felt as though we were part of a game show trying to encourage her to communicate her questions, and Deirdre herself was laughing (which is not easy when you’re on a ventilator!) Eventually she was able to decide that yes – she wanted to turn the ventilator off and take her chances.
When she came off it, we were all absolutely delighted that she could speak quietly and her condition stabilised to the point she was able to go to the Ear, Nose and Throat department with a Macmillan Nurse in charge of her care. Before long, Deirdre was admitted to Highland Hospice’s Inpatient Unit, which she found to be much more homely and comfortable.
With all this going on, Kim and her boyfriend Stuart decided they would like to get married so that her mum could be there. Deirdre gave them her blessing to go ahead. They then visited the Hospital Chaplain to set things in motion and Kim set about choosing a dress and bridesmaids dresses. It was incredible how everyone rallied round to help us. Three old friends - Jenny, Linda and Heather - who we knew from when our dads were teachers at Queen Victoria School in Dunblane, pulled out all the stops for us in baking a wedding cake, meringues and various other tasty treats, as well as favours for the guests. They hadn’t seen Deirdre for many, many years so this was exceptionally kind of them.
My eldest son Barry organised the music, and his wife Sarah did the photography – she’s now launched a new business partnership, Wild Bracken Photography. The Hospice also provided a buffet, and so we really did have all areas covered.
The wedding was held in the beautiful gardens of Highland Hospice on 22 August 2022, with a service led by Raigmore Hospital’s Chaplain. Norma Higgott, the Hospice’s Chaplain was on hand to help us out with everything too, and the Hospice nurses were so good with Deirdre. They got her ready and even made her a beautiful scarf to match her dress and hide the dressing on her neck.
It was a truly special occasion, with only closest family and friends, and it was a real struggle to keep it together because of the emotions everyone was experiencing. For this reason, we were all determined to focus on the joy of the occasion. Kim’s leaving song was Gerry Cinnamon’s ‘She is a Belter’, which put a smile on all of our faces. It all went perfectly, and Deirdre even managed to eat a sandwich when she hadn’t previously been eating.
We said our sad goodbyes to Deirdre a month after the wedding. It was a day that none of us will ever forget, and we are so grateful to the staff of Highland Hospice for all they did to help us. Deirdre really enjoyed Norma the Chaplain’s visits while she was a patient, and all of us as a family have been so grateful to Norma for keeping in touch since, and checking in on us.
It was a blessing that Deirdre received Hospice care so quickly and that we were able to come together as a family to see Kim get married – it gave us a little ray of sunshine in an incredibly sad situation.”