“When you are first diagnosed with an incurable illness you panic and look for cures even where there are none to be found, but the St Elizabeth Hospice staff are there to provide guidance and calm reassurance when it is needed most,” explained Craig Macartney, who has been using the hospice’s Community Care Unit services since June 2022.
“I first thought I had appendicitis after I felt pain in my tummy in the weeks just before the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. Following a scan, however, it was revealed to be stage 2 bowel cancer but they couldn’t operate straight away due to the pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding that.
“After my operation in June, I then began chemotherapy between September and December before unfortunately I caught Covid-19 Christmas Day. However, I was able to come out of hospital in January 2021 and went back to work in April that year.”
A familiar face to many in Ipswich, Craig, who is 53-years-old, worked as a teacher at Copleston High School for many years, and was pleased to be able to return to the school after his treatment, in a role which saw him work in Careers and Stakeholder Engagement.
He added: “I loved my job, as it was such a privilege to see the growth of so many pupils over the years, as they progressed through the school. After my diagnosis it really felt I had my working life and then all of a sudden I had my treatment. I didn’t know what to do or what was to happen next, it was very uncertain.
“Before returning to work I had my Covid-19 vaccine and the school was brilliant at facilitating my return with appropriate risk assessments and flexible working. However, in October 2021 I felt I had a tummy ache which led to me discovering the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and liver, and it was inoperable.
“This meant I had to leave work and begin chemotherapy once more, which I have been on ever since. This led to me receiving support from St Elizabeth Hospice in June 2022, after I contacted them via a self-referral form on their website.
“I was keen to find out what support was available for myself and my two daughters – Emily, 23, and Isabella, 21. The hospice team were great at matching my needs with their services and it was clear on the first meeting that they had read my medical notes too, which made the process so much easier for me rather than having to repeat my story once more and this makes you feel very reassured.
“They are really patient focused in their approach and it gives me peace of mind knowing they are also at the end of the phone for my family if they need an update or support.”
Every year St Elizabeth Hospice delivers free care to over 3,000 patients and their families throughout East Suffolk, Great Yarmouth and Waveney.
Centered on an individual’s needs, the hospice provides specialist support, whenever and wherever it is needed, whether at home, in the community or at the hospice.
The Community Care Unit, which launched in 2021 to replace the former Day Care services, operates from the hospice site in Ipswich, Beccles Hospital, Martham Medical Centre and Sole Bay Health Centre in Great Yarmouth and Waveney.
It offers the opportunity for patients’ wellbeing and social needs to be met, while also enabling the convenience of all necessary healthcare appointments to be organised and completed in one location on the same day.
Craig said: “I am trying to get to a stage where I can feel comfortable and be prepared for what is to come and the hospice is a big help with this. At the Community Care Unit I use the gym circuit, counselling and therapy services which help me with my physical and mental health.
“The therapy sessions, in particular, have made such a difference for mental strength and resilience. This became especially important when I have taken breaks from chemotherapy as it’s only then, you realise the side effects the treatment has on you and to have mental strength to process this can be hard.
“I have even made friends with the other people using the Community Care Unit services which has been a great support as these people understand what you are going through as they are living through similar experiences to yourself.
“I am very keen to raise awareness of the hospice and the support it provides people, as I feel often people do not engage with the hospice early enough in their journeys. They hear the word ‘hospice’ and think it means the end, when really it is a holistic service which is helping preparing you for what is to come, while also helping you enjoy life and the time you have.
“The Community Care Unit has given me the confidence to live positively and approach my care with a positive mindset and I cannot thank the team enough for this.”
More details about the Community Care Unit can be found at www.stelizabethhospice.org.uk/how-we-can-help/hospice-care/community-care-unit.