In summer 2023 our Willen at Home and In-Patient Unit teams provided end-of-life care for Jaff Newton – a long-time supporter of the Hospice and particularly the Midnight Moo. This year, we’ve named mile one ‘Jaff’s Mile’ to honour the contribution she made to our flagship event.

Group of people in hi-vis jackets

The Bosom Pals marshals at mile one of the Moo


Joining the Moo herd

Jaff was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 at the age of 50. She was one of the earliest members of local breast cancer support group Bosom Pals and went on to become their President for many years. After walking our second Midnight Moo in 2010 with daughter Jo, Jaff decided that Bosom Pals could help marshal the course the following year. Since then, members of the group have always marshalled mile one.

Several generations of same family smiling at camera during event

Jaff (right) at Midnight Moo with her daughter Jo, grandson and Mike

The Midnight Moo was just one of the many things she did, but it was always a highlight,” says Jaff’s husband, Mike. “She really enjoyed it, because of the camaraderie and getting everybody together and dressing up.

“We always used to do a walk of our first mile route beforehand. Jaff would work out where we needed to put people. She’d look and say, ‘oh, that person can’t walk too far so they can be here.’

Always supporting others

“She was the cog in the background making things work.”

As well as her work with Bosom Pals, Jaff was also secretary of the patient partnership group that helped to bring about the Cancer Centre at Milton Keynes University Hospital, which opened in 2020. Despite juggling her own illness and treatments with supporting others, Jaff never complained, according to daughter Sarah.

“Mum was a very determined lady,” says Sarah. “She didn’t like any kind of injustice and she was fiercely loyal to her friends and everyone she worked with.

She never wanted to be seen for the work she did. She was the cog in the background making things work.

“She’d always go the extra mile.”

“Mum always took calls from new breast cancer patients who joined Bosom Pals. She drove them to meetings if they didn’t have transport, especially those who didn’t have partners or families who could help. She’d always go the extra mile. She would visit them if they were in the Hospice, sit with them and take them a homemade scone or something.”

Couple outside the gates of Buckingham Palace

Mike and Jaff at Buckingham Palace

An eventful cancer journey

In the years after her diagnosis, Jaff had a mastectomy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. During that time she lived life to the full. Then in 2005 she developed secondary cancers.

“The secondary cancers were spread over a number of years,” says Mike. “She had a lovely consultant who worked in partnership with her to try and find alternative forms of treatments. At the end, she had it in her lungs, then in her bones, back and liver. Also, a few years back she had sepsis, which was tough, especially with later heart problems. So it’s been a very eventful journey, shall we say.

“The last time Jaff marshalled the Moo, in 2022, with her ongoing heart problems, I was really worried. She was not walking well and had a walking stick, but she still did it with the support of family and friends.”

Asking for help

In May 2023 Jaff was assessed by our Willen at Home team, who continued to monitor her condition. She had already discussed her end-of-life plans with her family, giving them the confidence to make any necessary decisions on her behalf.

“She always used to like to have her own bath every morning,” says Mike. “It was when she couldn’t manage that that we knew we needed help. We called Willen and the nurse came to help us. It was a choice, to be admitted to Willen or they could make arrangements for a proper bed to be brought to our home and we’d need nursing care.

“It meant … we could be there as her family rather than carers.”

“Jaff had gathered us all together about a year ago, and we’d talked as a family about her end-of-life care and where she’d like to be, so we knew that she’d be happy at Willen. It also meant that I knew she was getting the best care and we could be there as her family rather than carers.”

Space to take a breath

When the time came in July 2023, Jaff was admitted to our In-Patient Unit.

“We were told she might have 48 hours and she was in there the week,” says Sarah. “A tad longer than expected, as is her wont! But she perked up. She was sitting up in bed in her pink pyjamas having a WhatsApp call with my brother, Adrian, which she loved.

“The Willen staff were lovely. At the Hospice you’ve got space to go and have a deep breath, take a walk around.

“It wasn’t a distressing time, because we were looked after, and Mum was as well.”

“There were a couple of times where we needed medication sooner rather than later. Even then, the drugs weren’t just administered. The staff would say, ‘Jaff, this is what we’re doing. This is why we’re doing it. Are you happy that we’re doing this?’ It was always a consultative process with Mum.

“Ensuring every patient is treated with dignity in their end-of-life care was something Mum had championed, so it was really reassuring to see it put into practice.

“It’s never going to be an easy time. But actually when I look back, it’s sad, but it wasn’t a distressing time, because we were looked after, and Mum was as well.”

The kind of death she would have wanted

“It was so nice and peaceful and quiet.”

Mike remembers Jaff’s final moments with sense of calm.

“When friends from the Cancer Centre came, Jaff sat up and had a lovely chat with them,” he says. “But, just slowly… The last day, I don’t think she stirred much at all. It was very relaxed. On the Friday evening, she just stopped breathing. After that, we sat there with her for quite a while, but it was so nice and peaceful and quiet.

“As far as Jaff is concerned, we know that’s the kind of death she would have wanted.”

Family sitting on sofa smiling at camera

Jaff (centre) with left to right: husband Mike, daughter Sarah, son Adrian and daughter Jo

A real relisher of life

Sarah Crane, the Hospice’s Spiritual Care Lead, worked with Jaff on the hospital’s cancer patient partnership group and was honoured to be asked to officiate at her funeral.

“I first met Jaff when I was a very young, ‘green’ chaplain,” says Sarah, “and she was an absolute pro at getting things done. She was a very warm person and someone that made an enormous difference in cancer services across Milton Keynes. She was a massive advocate for helping professionals to see the real impact of care. She really wanted to make sure they understood what it was like to receive treatment. Just a relentless person – never walked past a weed without trying to get it out!

“Jaff was very at peace with the end of her life and she asked me to take her funeral. We had a joke that she’d planned it all herself. I just sat next to her bedside and wrote down what she wanted!

“An unstoppable force of nature. You couldn’t meet her and not know you’d met her.”

“She was a real relisher of life.  A very inspiring person, and at the same time, in the best sense, a very ordinary person. Didn’t want to stand out but did stand out. Also loved her family, loved her garden, loved to cook and worked hard at all the jobs she did.

“People like Jaff are what makes working in a job like this so precious.”