Denise was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer in October 2023, just a few weeks after her husband, Cliff, died.

Her passion for art and the steadfast support of several Hospice teams has motivated Denise to make the most of every day. She has also generously donated her art materials to benefit Hospice patients and provided funding for a creative studio space to be built near our Wellbeing Centre. 

Thinking creatively is a step away from your illness.”

Painting of South Bank in London

I can cope with what I’ve got by losing myself in painting a picture. It’s so therapeutic. Thinking creatively is a step away from your illness. That’s what I’m passionate about. It’s getting people out of this ‘I’m dying’ mode and into ‘I’m living’. Personally, I want to make the most of every day and live every minute.  

To me everything is art. I can’t sit with a piece of paper without turning it into something. There isn’t an aspect of life or work where you don’t, somewhere along the line, use art. How many times have you sat and looked at the clouds and seen something in them? That’s your creativeness. 

A creative career 

I started life as a hairdresser in Liverpool. I ran away from home in the 1960s and came to London. I saw an advertisement for a wig mistress at Sadler’s Wells and told them I could do wigs! It was the era of television programmes like the Forsythe Saga, with lots of curls and ringlets. I then moved on to the Royal Opera House for 14 years.   

When I had my son I started my own company designing bespoke packaging for blue chip companies – Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Garrards, then the crown jewellers. After all of that, I sold my business and decided it was my turn. So I got a degree in teaching and ended up teaching art and design at Bletchley College to A level and mature students. 

Painting of people with umbrellas

Not ‘happy news’ 

Cliff and I were together 40 years, but we only married 20 years ago. We had to ‘try before we bought’!  

“I intend to prove the doctors wrong.”

Sadly he was totally disabled for the last six years, and died on 21 August. I was diagnosed in October. I’d been to a GP first and then had some scans. The consultant said it wasn’t happy news. They did a biopsy and found stage 4 cancer. I was offered treatment in February this year, but my body rejected it. At that point I asked, ‘how long?’ The consultant wouldn’t say. I said ‘Six months?’ and he said, ‘No, that’s optimistic’. But here I am. I intend to prove the doctors wrong. We’re nearly into June, and I feel good enough.  

Easing the load 

Lady sitting in flower garden smiling at camera

When I was introduced to the Hospice, I was still in shock. I went to see one of the counsellors, Charlotte. From the day I met her, I felt at ease. I was able to unload a lot of my burden from when my husband passed, and focus on me. Charlotte helped me do that. And just the fact that I see her maybe once a month – it’s so nice, I can’t tell you. It’s that reaffirmation that, yes, this is going to be difficult, but try not to worry about it, which is a relief. 

Support from Willen at Home

It means I can carry on living, or trying to live, my best life.

The Willen at Home team nurses visit me every other week, but I’ll get a phone call most weeks to see if my medication’s OK and if I’m OK. When I was discharged from hospital, I felt I’d been left in limbo. With the Willen at Home team, I’ve got support. If I need them or I’m worried about anything, I know I’ll get a friendly face and someone in a uniform who knows what they’re talking about. And that is the most reassuring thing you can have. It means I can carry on living, or trying to live, my best life.   

Putting worries into perspective 

I was worried about my weight. I’ve gone from 9 stone to 6 stone. Whatever I eat just goes through me. I was thinking, what can I do? The Willen at Home nurses helped me put it into perspective. Their help was don’t be panicked by it, but be sensible. Drink and eat what you can. It’s common sense, but when you’re in this position, you don’t always see common sense. You need somebody to put you on the right track and that’s what they’ve done for me. I feel that’s the support that people like me need. 

“To have somebody outside of my family and friends who I can call and who understands is fantastic.”

Lots of people have their partners. I have my brother, but I can’t walk around the house saying to him I’m worried about this or that. When I’m on my own at night time, I get frightened. To have somebody outside of my family and friends who I can call and who understands is fantastic. You don’t want to play the cancer card, but at the same time you want that knowledge that there is somebody who cares. Willen at Home give me that. 

Mixed media painting of cockerelStepping outside illness 

The idea for my donation came from talking to one of the Hospice’s Therapeutic & Wellbeing team. She asked if I’d like to come along to an art session and explained that they took place once a month. When you’re given a short-term diagnosis, in a month’s time you might not be here.  

“I’ve got so much in my art studio and I want it to be put to good use.”

I started thinking about people sitting in their room at the Hospice. At a time when they’re being given a lot of medical facts about their illness, could they not have the freedom and opportunity to do something that stimulated the creative part of their mind? Whether it’s painting, crochet or card making. If all the materials they needed for a day were put into a trolley and wheeled to their bedside. They could pick it up when they wanted. That to me seemed a good idea. I’ve got so much in my art studio and I want it to be put to good use. 

Painting of Venice-like canal with boats and houses

So we went on talking, about the space used for the art sessions, and how it was also used for lots of other things. I’ve already put my own affairs in order and this seemed like something I could help with – to give the Hospice a suitable space for art sessions. And giving people an opportunity to step outside of their illness and do something creative. 

Remaining positive  

“Just because I’m diagnosed with a certain amount of time left, doesn’t mean I have to stick to it.”

I had the consultant from the hospital ring me this week. Now according to him, I shouldn’t really be here. But I said to him, I intend to remain positive. I wanted to see all my spring bulbs come up and I’ve seen them. I wanted to get to my birthday and I’ve had it. I wanted to plant a tree and I’ve done it.  

Just because I’m diagnosed with a certain amount of time left, doesn’t mean I have to stick to it. And that’s all down to the support of Willen. 

All the paintings shown here are Denise’s own work.