Joy Watkins on living life to the full
When we relaunched our Winchmore Hill site as the Health & Wellbeing Centre in March, Joy Watkins captured the essence of what we are striving for.
Her speech to the gathered audience at the opening ceremony was not only a frank and heartfelt account of her own 19-year battle with cancer but provided guests with a first-hand experience of how our services benefit and support patients and their loved-ones.
Joy is a campaigner. She worked in the charity sector for many years at a senor level at an HIV Centre and latterly at a dementia charity heading up a national network to empower family carers to have a platform. She strikes you as the sort of person who could sell ice to the Eskimos. Her speech captivated our audience so we wanted to share some of it with you.
I look pretty well. I often look healthier than my stressed friends who are still working. I often feel ok but I am seriously ill. My cancer has spread mainly to my liver so I have tons of energy and then almost none. I first got breast cancer in 1999 at the age of 45.
After treatment I was told there was an 88% chance I would never get it again as it was caught early. I am a really positive person so once I had the operation and the treatment I believed it had gone and I got on with life …
The cancer retuned six years later and I had a mastectomy…. Five years later in 2011 my cancer finally spread and became incurable, I realised that someone has to be the wrong side of good statistics – and it was me.
Living with a life shortening diagnosis and uncertainty for many years can be very hard. I know I won’t ever get my pension now, which really annoys me! I also won’t know if my stepson ever has kids …which breaks my heart.
It’s very likely now that I will die this year, and possibly within months. That really is hard to make sense of but I’m also realistic about what is happening to me. I have developed a very open relationship with my doctors at the Royal Marsden. Knowing how long I probably have
to live has helped me.
I am a positive person and good at living in the moment. Working with people with HIV at the time when new drugs were found that saved peoples lives has kept me going and knowing that will happen for people with cancer soon …. sadly not in time for me.
I first came here to the Health & Wellbeing Centre four years ago when I was in a lot of pain and the hospital suggested that I would get better support at a Hospice.
So what do I get from coming here to the Hospice? I get space, time to make choices and flexibility to talk through things with experts who know about living and living with a good quality of life. I also have the chance to meet others like me and have honest supportive conversations where we encourage each other.
A year ago I was about to go into liver failure which is how I am likely to die. I wanted to understand so I could choose what happens to me and make decisions that are right for me so I could then enjoy the time I do have.
Louise Schofield is a Palliative Care Consultant here at the Health & Wellbeing Centre. She’s an expert at helping you make decisions that involve having a good quality of life, not just staying alive for the sake of it. Louise has really helped me to make choices about my care, she’s also a really good listener….I often cry. Her appointments are for at least 30 minutes so there is time to talk.
Louise has supported me in making choices about my care and my end of life, and helped me to feel more in control and not worry about how I might die.
I have therefore cashed in my small pensions and have loved spending money on things that make me, and others, happy.
The Hospice helps us get on with living as best we can. I come when I need help and have had a variety of alternative treatments and psychological support that has made a real difference.
I am part of a Secondary Breast Cancer Support Group, which has been invaluable. Also a special Photography group, where I meet people like me living life to the full, most who also look healthy but are not necessarily. We encourage and share our passion in photography and also share how we feel. The group helps us live well with a terminal illness.
I am not afraid of dying, I am just not ready to die now as I am only 63 and am enjoying life too much. The hospice can help us live with a better quality of life. It is not just a place to die, until we are dying. Then I know it will be a safe place to die with real support and kindness.