For me and many others, St Christopher’s is somewhere to come to live, not to die
Richard Carter is 52 and has lived in Orpington all his life. In 2016 he was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and began coming to St Christopher’s in April 2017
“I was taken ill and it was found that I have glioblastoma multiforme – a grade 4 brain tumour. I instantly thought ‘how can I get myself better’ – I just didn’t think that it was a serious situation. When we realised the seriousness of the situation I thought ‘it is what it is, I can’t do anything about it’. We went as a family to speak to surgeons and oncologists and asked all of the awkward questions with the kids there – we are in it as one. My wife Jane and I have kept the kids on board throughout our journey. We have two daughters Emily, 23 and Lucy, 17 and a son Will, 20. We’ve all talked openly as a family, laughed and cried together; we’ve kept nothing hidden.
I had an operation in November 2016 where they removed a large part of the tumour. Unfortunately, the surgery left me with a deficient left-hand side, so I had 6 weeks of intensive neuro-rehab, effectively learning to balance and walk again. Following this, I had 6 weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy as an inpatient. These were the toughest days of my journey, but I got through it. After treatment, I was advised to seek the support of a hospice and that’s where St Christopher’s came in. I already knew of St Christopher’s in Orpington as they looked after Jane’s parents, giving them much of the care they needed within their own home. It’s actually quite poignant as my family and I have recently moved into my in-laws house. It’s the same house that Jane was born in, too.
When we were advised to get under the wings of a hospice, it was something I’d never considered before. Before I started making use of more of the facilities, I first came to have a bath. I then had counselling so that I could learn to cope and understand what was going on. CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) helped with my mood and to get my head around what was happening. It helped my family too; my wife and daughters all had counselling. St Christopher’s also gave my youngest daughter counselling over the phone when she away at boarding school during the week. Now, I go to Orpington to see the chiropodist, attend counselling and meet with nurses and on Thursdays I go to Sydenham to attend the gym and art and drama classes. It’s been a place to help me and I’ve built up friendships with staff and patients. I’ve learnt that for me and many others it’s somewhere to come to live, not to die.
I thoroughly enjoy using the gym as I was very active when I was able bodied. I was a keen runner, gardener and walked the dog all the time. It’s a good feeling using the gym, it gets the blood flowing. I used to run with a running club and it was part of my life; then all of a sudden I became ill and was stripped of that. I ran in the London Marathon in 2010 which was a wonderful experience – tough but people there cheering you the whole way. I had done 10k runs before that point (I entered the ballot 5 times before getting into the marathon) and trained for 6 months prior to the event, running 400 training miles in total. I am also a former county golfer and I miss the game so much
Art therapy is really varied, we get to do art, drama, music – a real mixture. These are all things that I would not necessarily have tried before coming to the hospice and I feel lucky to have the opportunity now. St Christopher’s organised a day out to the Royal Academy of Art with the team here. It was fantastic; a lovely day. I also met Princess Alexandra when she visited the hospice; I was nervous that I was going to address her wrong but I got it right! Elaine (the centre manager) told me to be on my best behaviour – no wise cracks! I’m fortunate I’ve still managed to retain a sense of humour and if that’s the last thing that goes I’ll be a happy man. Not that I’m expecting to go anytime soon!
Going to the gym and art classes has been such a positive experience, which I’ve been able to tell my friends and family about. I can work on my balance, going up and down the stairs, using my legs to push pedals. I wasn’t able to go up the stairs when we moved house, I’d only been able to see half the house. Now, because of the gym and physio at St Christopher’s, I’ve been able to get up the stairs once with some help and tell the kids to tidy their rooms!
I used to work in the print industry, and was based in Sevenoaks. I had worked with the same guys since 1987. I miss my colleagues and work but there’s nothing I can do about it; I have to be accepting. My colleagues come to visit me and the company has been very supportive. At the end of last year, they arranged a 5-a-side football competition and asked me to present the cup. When they asked me what charity I wanted the money fundraised to go to, St Christopher’s was my obvious choice. My wife and daughter ran in the London 10k and also raised money for the hospice. They were wearing a St Christopher’s shirt with their names on and were cheered on along the way. My friends and family have been incredible; throughout my journey I have had friends visiting me, and a wonderful family by my side. I’m very grateful, as every visit from a friend, and each outing, lifts my spirits and drives me on to keep enjoying the good days and make memories.
I’ve done the Bluebell Walk with friends and family in previous years -it’s something we try to support and we are fortunate enough to live nearby to where it takes place. It gives the dog a good walk too and it raises money for a great cause, as well as being a very pleasant multi-distance route which is accessible for many. I would urge those that can, to take part and enjoy it as much as I did!’.