Laughter and music were the best medicine for Peggy at the Foyle Hospice

Bob and Peggy Shepard.
Bob and Peggy Shepard.

Peggy Shepard was a woman who loved music. A factory girl, she spent her days singing while she stitched, and when she fell ill her family took over singing her favourite tunes.

They say laughter is the best medicine, and for Peggy’s husband Bob and daughter Maria, her illness, which was such a difficult time in their lives, was a time when moments of humour kept them going.

Peggy, a mother of six, passed away peacefully in her home on February 12 this year.

Her family say that without the support of the Foyle Hospice they don’t know what they would have done.

“Peggy was diagnosed with dementia eight years ago,” explained her husband Bob. “At the start it was very slight but about five years ago it got really bad. Peggy had vascular dementia and lewy bodies, a condition which means she was seeing things that were not really there.”

As part of her care Peggy received respite in Melmount Home in Strabane, however one day she suffered a massive bleed and was rushed to the acute ward of Altnagelvin Hospital.

Medics diagnosed a brain tumour - measuring five and a half inches on her frontal lobe.

“That diagnosis changed everything,” said her daughter Maria. “We started questioning mammy’s dementia and wondered if she ever had dementia and whether it was the tumour all along.

“We decided that it would be wrong to tell her about the tumour, it wouldn’t have been fair, she wouldn’t have understood.”

Six weeks later the family were dealt another devastating blow when a nurse tending to Peggy in Altnagelvin Hospital found a lump - Peggy was also suffering from breast cancer.

“It was a two and a half inch tumour,” said Maria. “The breast clinic people were so good to us, especially Fiona Rankin. But mammy could be so funny at times. The day we were in the breast clinic, she thought we were in St Brigid’s Church, she kept shushing us to be quiet, she made us laugh.”

Peggy was offered radiotherapy treatment however the family decided that the long journeys to Belfast would be too much and decided to take her home to care for her.

“Daddy and I decided we could do it together,” said Maria. “Mammy was such an easy wee patient and we kept singing to her. Our palliative care nurse was Annette Gamble, the nurses that came out to help us we called our Angels in Disguise.”

The family also agreed to let Peggy go into the Foyle Hospice for respite.

“The first time Peggy went in was the hardest,” said Bob. “We’d heard that once you go in you don’t come out. I told the doctor that he didn’t realise how difficult it was to hand her over. he told me she’d be ok. But it was important she went in so they could fix her medication. In the end Peggy went into the Hospice four times.

“The nurses would sing to her. When we went in to see her we could hear the nurses singing.

“Peggy was a woman of great faith and she loved it when Bishop Daly came in to see her. She asked him ‘Bishop Daly, am I going to die? He answered: ‘Peggy we’re all going to die.’ I won’t forget those comforting words.”

Peggy went into the Hospice for the last time on December 2 and stayed until January 15.

“It was our wish to have mammy at home when she died,” said Maria. “The Foyle Hospice made that happen.”

Bob said: “I couldn’t have coped without my family, the Foyle Hospice and the nurses who helped us.

“We celebrated our wedding anniversary in the Foyle Hospice, 45 years.”