In 2016, Karen's mum, Celia, was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer, which had spread to her lungs. She was told she had 18 months to live.
“I was devastated and confused. Mum was the fittest, most positive, healthy-living lady I had ever met. She and my dad, John, shared a passion for walking in the Derbyshire Dales and she’d hike 12 miles every day. Our running joke was that she always took the longest route. She'd be striding out ahead up a mountain as we could only look on in awe and exhaustion!
Mum made the most of every minute she hadShe responded so well to treatment that she was able to try new treatments which prolonged her life. Eventually she became the longest person in the the UK to live with her particular cancer. We thought she'd always be here.
I truly believe that mum's positive spirit and stubbornness to never give up, gave her the strength to keep defying all the odds. When one treatment stopped working, they tried another. She flew past all her end-of-life deadlines, making the most of every minute she had.
We were glad we knew her final wishesSadly, last year, her body started to give up. Each new treatment became harder for her to tolerate and made her more confused and prone to infection. Miraculously she made my 50th birthday party, and even though she was given only weeks to live, she made it to my wedding last year.
Mum and I took her last walk around our favourite park in Allestree in February. We spoke at length about how she wanted to die at home, where she’d lived for the last 40 years. She wanted to die peacefully and have her ashes scattered in the Peak District. It was an incredibly difficult conversation but as a family we were glad we knew her final wishes.
In March, mum's end of life specialist called and told me not to go into work, but to pack a bag and travel to Derbyshire.
It didn't feel real. Mum was still chatting, and eating cake, which she loved, but was increasingly weak. A hospital bed was delivered, and we lovingly made it up in the front lounge where mum could look out of the window, with pictures beside her of all her loved ones. It all felt deeply sad and surreal.
Mum had a wonderful weekend surrounded by her family, but by the Monday she was on more medication and asleep the whole time. It felt more frightening. My biggest fear was that I'd go to sleep, and she'd be alone when she died. But it was unclear how long she had left, and we were all emotionally exhausted.
I had no idea what hospices could offerMum's end of life specialist talked to me about Treetops and explained that they could help mum in these last few days.
All I knew about hospices was, that when it was your time to pass, that's where you went. Until you are in this situation you don't really ask questions. We all have that inherent fear of death. I had no idea that a hospice offered any other services.
On the Monday night, the Treetops Hospice at Home nurse arrived.
She sat with mum through the night allowing us time for precious sleep. She promised if anything changed, she would wake us. It was like a gift from the heavens. Someone who cared, who helped, and understood what we were going through.
Each night, a Treetops nurse arrived. On Wednesday night, when mum became very agitated, they called the Treetops Roaming Nurse Service who drove out to give her medication and settle her, without her having to go into hospital.
Mum's final nightThe night before she died, I stayed up all night with the nurse. We chatted to mum, we made friends with each other and told each other our life stories. It was clear mum was worse and needed a doctor for more medication. So, I made tea, coffee and got chocolate biscuits and then me, the Treetops nurse, and the district nurses had a little party with mum.
I recalled lots of funny stories about my childhood and played her some of my singing.
There was lots of laughter amongst the tears. I hope that mum was glad in those last few hours that we tried to make it happy, not sad.
All this wouldn’t have been possible if I had been all alone, sleep-deprived for six nights and frightened.
Love and support from Treetops nursesOn Friday morning, I said goodbye to the Treetops nurse with a big hug and lots of tears. We knew today was the day. I gave mum one final wash and told her she looked beautiful. With my dad, brother and daughters beside her, she took her last breath peacefully, in the home she'd loved for over 40 years.
It's hard to fully describe how difficult that week was. But my overriding memories are of the love and support of the Treetops nurses.
They lifted us through those long dark nights and filled them with a positivity I didn't think possible at such an awful time.
Treetops allowed my mum her final wish, to die at home peacefully. They gave us as a family the courage, love, strength, and support to be strong enough to be there for her in her final hours.
Mum was my rock, my go-to and my best friend. I miss her every day."