Josephine Cole admits that like many, she’s had her ups and downs in life. 2018 was definitely an up. She had just celebrated her 73rd birthday, was riding high on retirement, and into her 15th year of marital bliss with Dennis. They’d known each other for over 40 years as friends before they finally got it together and Dennis romantically popped the question.
That Christmas, Josephine started to feel pains in her stomach. Suspecting a stomach ulcer or irritable bowel syndrome, Josephine’s GP sent her for further tests.
Little did the couple know that a routine hospital appointment would turn out to be so devastating, as Josephine recalled: ‘The oncologist turned to me and said: “You have pancreatic cancer. It’s inoperable and terminal. There’s not much more else I can say.”
‘My jaw dropped,’ said Josephine. ‘It was a terrible shock, and there were lots of tears. I asked the doctor how long I had left. He said 11 months with treatment, and six without. It felt so cruel. Just as I had found true happiness in life, it was all going to be snatched away from me.’
Josephine agreed to a course of chemotherapy. She was told, that just maybe, treatment could extend her life by 15 months. The Macmillan nurses at Queen’s Hospital in Romford suggested that Saint Francis Hospice’s day unit and social hub, Pemberton Place, may be of interest to her.
Josephine wasn’t ready to die just yet. She wondered what Saint Francis Hospice could possibly offer her unless she was in the final days of her life.
‘Coming to the Hospice is the best thing that I’ve ever done,’ she said. ‘There’s no doom and gloom here. It’s an incredibly happy place, and I want everyone to know that. Saint Francis Hospice is my comfort blanket, and everyone who works here treats me with dignity. I know that when I do reach the very end of my life, I don’t want to be anywhere else.’
Josephine decided to end chemotherapy in December 2019. She admitted that’s she’s still frightened.
‘We’re all scared, but we stick together and fight it in our own way. I’ve had a good life — I just wish it go on for longer.’
Josephine doesn’t have many regrets. She desperately wanted one last hurrah in travelling the world after her diagnosis, but sickness from chemotherapy stopped her. Josephine’s other disappointment is that she won’t be able to grow older with Dennis and care for him.
‘I know I have months left to live, but that’s where I’m at. I wake up every morning, say ‘thank you for another day,’ and I go again.
‘I get a lot out of being at the Hospice and spending time with the staff and patients. Everyone is so kind. They help me make the most of the time I have left. But I don’t take it lightly; I know the Hospice needs every penny it can get.’
By volunteering at Pemberton Place, you can help people just like Josephine live in comfort, dignity and joy. The Hospice need artists, singers, musicians, physiotherapists, beauticians, hairdressers, masseuses and patient drivers. Together, we can win the fight against loneliness and isolation among people living with life-limiting illnesses in our local boroughs.