Save Our Hospice: Do it for our daddy

Polly-Jean Rowles, six, with her sister Millicent, four.
Polly-Jean Rowles, six, with her sister Millicent, four.

“There’s daddy and me,” says a wide-eyed Millicent as she points enthusiastically at family photographs.

The four-year-old is leafing through a book made for her by her late father David in the final months of his life.

She remonstrates with me for missing a page before closing it and looking across the living room of her Heysham home at mum Sarah.

“I wish daddy was still alive,” says the St Peter’s C of E Primary School pupil matter-of-factly.

“I know you do,” Sarah replies.

It is also nearly bedtime for six-year-old Polly-Jean during my visit, a time David had wanted to make sure remained special for his two tiny daughters, even after he had passed away.

So he left memories aplenty for his girls to look back on for the rest of their lives.

As well as making books, Sarah recorded her husband reading bedtime stories before his death on August 7, 2011 at the age of 57.

Sarah explained: “From the end of April, beginning of May, we bought the books because the two girls had had separate rooms so we read one bedtime story each.

“We did the bedtime stories because we thought it was still important they had that routine.

“He’d researched camcorders, because he was a bit of a nerd, so the next thing was we were going to John Lewis because they had the cheapest one of this camera.

“We booked a weekend away with the girls so that he could get used to this camera and then he picked seven of his favourite books.

“I had to video him reading them in different rooms around the house.

“The videos mean they’re never in doubt that they are the be all and end all for their dad.”

Diagnosed in February 2010 after finding a lump in his throat, the early signs pointed towards David making a full recovery.

“We were very matter of fact and honest with the children because the prognosis was really good,” said Sarah.

“He was young, fit, everything was going to be fine.

“When he started the chemo the girls would say ‘are you taking your poison today’. When his hair fell out the joke was is Father Christmas going to bring your hair back?”

After five weeks without treatment however David found lumps in his groin and a scan revealed that the cancer had spread.

Complications then meant a trial of a new cancer drug at Christies in Manchester was delayed until the following February, 12 months after the original diagnosis.

Despite feeling good about what Sarah describes as a “nuclear dose of chemo” the treatment wasn’t working.

As his health deteriorated, the pair finally told their consultant at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary that they’d accepted what was going to happen.

“We went to see a consultant at Lancaster in April and said we’d had enough,” Sarah recalls.

“We’d crossed that line, we knew we were terminal.

“It wasn’t about a cure, it was about getting everything in place. David said he’d got the girls to think about.

“Rather than be away from his children he wanted to spend time with them.”

It was a change in circumstances that wasn’t lost on their two young children.

“Polly actually said to me one day, very matter of fact, the doctors aren’t making daddy better are they?” said Sarah.

“I said no and she said you know what he needs? The angels. The angels can make him better.

“We got back and she said daddy, the angels will make you better. He joked how she was getting impatient and he was hanging around too long!

“We were really pleased she made that leap.”

It was at this point that David began planning, and it went way beyond the books and the videos, even leaving a post-it note with an MOT reminder in their car paperwork for his wife.

“He left letters for lots of people as well and wrote the one for his own funeral service,” said Sarah

“I don’t know why I paid the vicar, it was all written!

“He’d picked his outfit he wanted to be buried in, he didn’t want shoes, surely you’re meant to be comfortable and you can be bare foot in heaven, he’d say.

“He’d done the soundtrack, written the speech and thanked everyone who helped us. He was very clear he wanted to be at home and didn’t want to be in pain.”

That is where the St John’s Hospice hospice at home team came in and Sarah can’t thank them enough for what they did.

And she believes their story shows that the Slyne Road charity really can affect anybody of any age.

“The perception of the hospice is that it’s all old dears, but it’s not,” she said.

“It can be about joy, it can be about humour, I just hope the hospice at home team enjoyed coming into our family as we benefited from what they gave us.

“They did give us that normality and allow us to fulfil his wish of being at home.”

David died at home on a Sunday evening having joked earlier in the week with his wife about what the most convenient day would be for him to pass away.

Polly-Jean read him a story as he was too ill to send her off to sleep as he had done for all her young life, not knowing the gift her dad had left for her and her little sister.

“The deterioration was quick,” said Sarah.

“He had a while where life was pretty normal, then we had two weeks where it was deterioration to death.

“We talked lots, I remember telling him he was really glad that he got cancer.

“Someone pulled me up but if he’d died of a heart attack my kids wouldn’t have had anything, I wouldn’t have had anything.

“I would have had all those questions. Was our relationship real? Was I the love of his life?

“Whereas with the cancer we were open and honest with our children so that they could thrive afterwards and he’s left them with something that most parents don’t have the time to do.”

“For that I feel really blessed.”