Penny’s husband, Peter, died at home in March this year at the age of 91, after living with prostate cancer for six years. Thanks to our Willen at Home team, Penny, Peter and their two daughters were prepared for what would happen and had support available 24 hours a day.

 

I met Peter when I was nine years old. I grew up on a boatyard in Norfolk. When Peter was 18, he came with a group of Young Farmers to hire one of my father’s boats. He can remember me from that time but I can’t specifically remember him! So we’ve known each other for 74 years and were married for 59.

My family exhibited at the National Boat Shows in London each year and we would see Peter there. When I was 23 and he was in his 30s, we got married. Peter had qualified as a chartered accountant and become a partner in the family firm, Keens, Shay, Keens. He was Master of the South Herts Beagles and had a great interest in farming and the countryside.

Serving Milton Keynes

Peter was a sixth-generation Lutonian and we lived near Luton when we married. In 1969 the firm moved us near Milton Keynes to be part of the growth of the new town. Later Peter was Managing Director of a family hotel in Cornwall, worked with the Milton Keynes Citizens’ Advice Bureau, and was Bursar of BUPA’s first care home when it opened on Downs Barn. He was also a very devoted magistrate in the family courts for nearly 30 years.

“He decided not to have any treatment.”

After a long and happy retirement, Peter was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 85. We talked it through and he decided not to have any treatment. He had no problems from the cancer really, until this year. He was playing golf until November 2023.

Man facing camera

A sudden change

On 12 February we had lunch with our daughters, then Peter played bowls. The next day he was curled up in pain. It was as sudden as that. The cancer had gone into his bones. He had had some problems with his back and I bought him a special pillow at Christmas to help, but it had been quite peripheral.

“I can remember standing in the kitchen with two lots of morphine, one in each hand, and no idea what to do with them.”

A GP prescribed him co-codamol, which made Peter very sick, then morphine. I can remember standing in the kitchen with two lots of morphine, one in each hand, and no idea what to do with them. Peter was in a fair amount of pain and needed a walking frame to move. Then the GP put us on to the Hospice.

Help at home

We had always known about the Hospice because it was built while we were living here, and we all raised money for it. There wasn’t a bed available for Peter in the In-Patient Unit, so we were looked after by Willen at Home. They arranged for us to have an adjustable bed to make him more comfortable and I had no hesitation in phoning them if I had any questions. Nothing was too much trouble. They were super.

“We’d never been with anybody who was dying.”

One of my daughters says she will always remember a Willen at Home nurse called Ellie sitting us down and explaining to us what would happen when Peter was dying. We found that very useful because none of us knew; we’d never been with anybody who was dying.

Constant support

“Whatever happened, we could ring Willen at Home.”

Having a telephone number that we could ring 24 hours a day was a great comfort. Whatever happened, we could ring Willen at Home. On two occasions Peter said he was in pain, so we phoned and the nurses came, but he was fast asleep by the time they got here. With their unfailing patience they stayed with us for half an hour and assured us we had been right to call them.

The nurses’ expertise in combining the drugs in a syringe driver helped to counteract several problems. They came once a day to adjust it. At one point Peter was extremely agitated and kept trying to get out of bed; that was a very difficult time. The nurses said the morphine was causing it so they put him on fentanyl instead.

The beginning of the end

A few days before Peter died, one of the care agency staff we had coming in said, “He is not talking to us anymore when we wash him and turn him in bed.” I assumed it was the beginning of the end.

We had had the family lunch together on 12 February and it was on 15 March that he died. Even though Peter died at 1am, our GP, who is a priest, came to anoint Peter. He prayed with us and we sang one verse of Amazing Grace.

“I have no idea what it would have been like without Willen at Home. I don’t think we could have coped.”

Unforgettable care and compassion

I have no idea what it would have been like without Willen at Home. I don’t think we could have coped. There was a time before we had the Hospice’s help, when Peter phoned 111 because he wanted to be catheterised. All these people were wandering around our home. They wanted to take him into hospital to give him a blood transfusion. They said it wouldn’t make him better, but he would feel better. We said no. Peter and I had discussed this and felt that if he went into hospital he would not come out again.

Looking back now, we wouldn’t have had it any other way. You don’t remember the hair-raising moments when you didn’t know what you were doing, but to actually be with Peter the whole time was important to us. He died in the night, so if he hadn’t been at home we probably would not have been with him. My daughters and I will never forget the care and compassion shown by Willen’s palliative care nurses to Peter and to us, and will be forever grateful to them.