Receiving hospice care is a privilege

Adelaide and Declan O'Neill.
Adelaide and Declan O'Neill.
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This week marks the first ever all island World Hospice and Palliative Care Week. To mark the week the Foyle Hospice has organised a number of events culminating in a coffee morning on Saturday. This week Derry Journal news editor, Erin Hutcheon visited to the Foyle Hospice to speak to staff, patients and relatives for whom this facility has come to mean so much.

It’s been just six months since Derry woman Adelaide O’Neill lost her husband Declan to liver cancer.

Declan (59) spent his last days at the Foyle Hospice and Adelaide says she and her family will always grateful for the love and support they received from staff during the hardest period of their lives.

Adelaide still returns to visit the staff at the Hospice and they still remember her by name, each giving her a hug and asking her how she is.

“The staff here are all so lovely,” said Adelaide.

“Every single person here knew my daughters and I by name. People were just so good.”

Adelaide married her husband Declan from Bridgend, 31 years ago.

In 2011 Declan was diagnosed with cancer.

“Declan had a sore back, that’s what his symptoms started off with,” explained Adelaide.

“He was being treated for a frozen shoulder for quite a while before he was diagnosed properly. He developed a swelling in his chest wall and it was pressing on a nerve causing the sore back. That was a secondary to his liver cancer.”

Declan was referred for chemotherapy.

“The first round of chemo was successful,” explained Adelaide.

“And the second round was classed as successful because although it didn’t decrease the size of the tumour, it didn’t grow. Declan was then put on a trial drug and he seemed to be doing ok on that for a while, and then it stopped working and the tumour started to progress. “

Adelaide explained that Declan had been referred to the Foyle Hospice for day care.

“For the year and a half Declan came for day care he was quite well,” she said.

“He enjoyed the day care because there were other men down here.

“Declan was an art teacher, and he did art as recreation and as therapy.

“He did a watercolour class in the last year so he did a lot of art at home. I have paintings by Declan in the house now that I never had before because of the art he did in the Foyle Hospice.”

Adelaide explained at the end of 2013, Declan was still on the trial drug which made life difficult because he was under the care of Belfast, and any problems meant they had to go to Belfast, making the constant journey up and down.

“Just before Christmas when we were told the trial drug wasn’t having any effect, we were still under the care of Belfast,” she said.

“The drug was classed like a chemotherapy drug therefore the City Hospital would have been my point of contact.

“But that really wasn’t very practical especially over Christmas time. We were both devastated when we heard the drug wasn’t working,

“I think we both knew there wouldn’t be another alternative because I think they don’t offer a trial drug, and we were very lucky to get a trial drug, if there’s nothing else.

“After Christmas at the New Year Declan became very unwell. And the doctors at day care in the hospice told us to contact them if they had any problems over Christmas. They were an enormous help to us.

“When I rang they would tell me to bring him over.

“Because he went downhill quite quickly I had a lot of contact with the staff and the doctors, especially from the ward and he was taken in for respite for a week.

“We both realised the value of the hospice. I only live at the end of the bridge so I was able to spend a lot of my time there and go home in the

“The right and the best care was here.

“Staff are so accommodating. It is such an uplifting place. That seems like a contradiction, but there’s a joy here.

“Sister Anna, Bishop Daly and our own Minister were such a help to me. They were as much a help to me as they were to Declan. I don’t know how people can cope with something like this without God in their lives.

“We were able to be here all the time and his daughters could come when they wanted.

“We could bring in things that we wanted to eat, we could watch the television together.

“There are always other relatives about and you get to know them and you get to realise that so many people are on this journey. You know everyone here and they were always asking about Declan.”

Declan passed away peacefully on March 29.

“I would advocate the Hospice so much,” said Adelaide. “I think people think of the hospice as a place to come and die, ” she said.

“But they don’t realise that people come in here and go home again. That happened Declan twice.

“We were privileged to get a bed here.

“There are very few people who cancer hasn’t affected. I think we were privileged to have hospice care.

“When you see the difference between clinical and hospice care there’s no comparison.”