It broke my heart

Sharon and her partner, Chris, have recently visited Kingham Cottage. As carers for Sharon’s daughter, Sarah, in her 30s, and Chris’s Mum who is now 90, they have a hectic life. Sharon says there were times, when she was caring for Sarah, that it broke her heart.

A little background…

Chris and Sharon Rigby have been together 19 years. They had both been married before and have children from their previous relationships. Sarah is Sharon’s daughter.

This is Sharon’s account of life as a carer
It broke my heart

My daughter, Sarah, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 after finding a lump. Sarah was 30 years old at the time and a single parent to two small children. Scarlett was aged 10 and Alexander was aged 6. I work full-time as a support worker. 

The cancer spread

Sarah was booked in quite quickly to have a mastectomy and breast reconstruction. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and she had to have them removed too. Sarah underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy, all of which left her very poorly, even contracting sepsis during one of her stays in hospital.

Sarah was fitted with a picc line in her arm – to administer chemotherapy as the chemo made her veins weak. Most of the nurses weren’t trained to obtain blood through a picc line so Sarah’s arms were heavily bruised and her picc line infected. The nurses were all lovely and tried their best. Being on a main ward of the hospital meant, understandably, that most of the nurses weren’t specialists with cancer.

After each chemotherapy session, Sarah was very ill and remained in bed for a few days. So, I stayed with her to look after the children and Sarah. The workload was overwhelming. All I wanted to do was nurse my sick daughter.

It broke my heart

Sarah lost her beautiful thick dark hair, her eyebrows and her lashes. I remember driving her home one day after another bout of chemo and she was sobbing. She asked, “Who would ever want a girlfriend with one boob and no hair, eyebrows or lashes?” It broke my heart.  

At that time, I tried to get support from various sources, ie; children’s social services. But I was told because the children weren’t physically disabled, end of life or emotionally unstable, there was nothing they could do.

I plodded on emotionally, physically, mentally and financially drained

It wasn’t until I got in touch with the carers service that I really felt I had the support I needed. They took hold of the reins and organised multidisciplinary meetings. My Mum also fell ill at this point with cancer and during one of Sarah’s poorly episodes, both my Mum and Sarah were rushed to hospital on the same day. The were both in the same hospital on different floors.

I really don’t know now how I coped 

Chris, my partner, had lost his Dad a good few years back and he was already looking after his elderly mother. She was 87 at that time. He was doing her shopping and cooking for her. 

Thankfully, my family gave most of the support to my Mum as they knew the pressure we were under. I did however spend a couple of nights on a camp bed at my Mum’s house. It was when she wasn’t allowed home from hospital unless someone stayed with her.

I was up early the next day to support Sarah for surgery.  I was suffering with sciatica pretty badly, and I remember crying once Mum went to bed. Again, I really don’t know how I coped back then. Chris cooked all the meals for everyone – we were like meals on wheels. I returned to work. And, on my days off, we cared for both Sarah and Chris’s Mum. My mother died 2 days before Mother’s day in 2019.

I don’t feel I even had time to grieve properly for her

Eventually, we got some support from adult social services for Sarah to have carers. This took a lot of pressure off me.  

And now…

Sarah has been left with severe nerve damage in her arm due to having her lymph nodes removed and fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body. Sadly, she cannot walk too far due to muscle wastage in her legs from all the time she was in bed. She has also had to have her fallopian tubes and ovaries removed as she was at high risk of getting cancer again. That said, Sarah’s beautiful thick hair has grown back and she is adjusting to a different type of life compared to pre-cancer but she smashes it every day! I am so proud of her and I love her more than words can say. 

Both me and Chris continue to do the shopping for both Sarah and Chris’ Mum and Chris cooks all his Mum’s meals ensuring she gets all the nutrients she needs. She is 90 now and remains in her own home. Her eyesight is failing and her mobility is poor but despite this, she does really well. 

Kingham Cottage was absolutely amazing!

I found After Umbrage myself online and asked the carers service if they could possibly stamp the application form for us. We decided to take Scarlett as she has had such a tough time being a carer for her Mum since the age of 10. We went to Kingham cottage in June this year due to last year being canceled due to Covid. It was absolutely amazing! The cottage is gorgeous, with all the necessities and a few little luxury treats that just helped us to unwind.

The location is stunning and although we had booked various activities for Scarlett, such as, Stone Henge, The Roman Baths, and glass blowing, (which were all amazing) it would have been just as much fun to stay at the cottage and enjoy the splendours of Coombe Down. While we were there we saw a hot air balloon floating past our window (not something you see every day) and we watched a young fox out on the lane each evening.  

Make time to laugh and be kind to yourself

Our lives are still hectic with all of life’s trials and tribulations but we have learned to take each day at a time and to make the most of every day. The opportunity to visit Kingham cottage allowed us as carers the chance to unwind and gave us something to look forward to.  

I can’t thank the charity enough for the chance to experience this little oasis and give us such a wonderful memory that I/we will treasure forever.