6 November 2023

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Kerry and Roberto’s story

In their darkest hour Kerry and her Italian husband Roberto found a much-needed second family at St Christopher’s

When I met Roberto, I was drawn immediately to his gentle and kind nature and his impressive intellect. Although his background was in computer science, something I knew nothing about, he was interested in everything from politics to economics to history. We married a few years after meeting in a beautiful villa in the hills outside of Rome – the city where Roberto grew up. Over the years we often travelled to Italy and some of our best memories were holidays spent exploring the country, especially Sardinia, from where Roberto’s father originated.

Finally, after 12 years and numerous miscarriages, we joyfully welcomed our son Gianluca, who was the image of his father. A passionate photography buff, Roberto accumulated thousands of photos of our son throughout the years; from Gianluca’s first day of school to the numerous tennis tournaments he began to compete in from the age of five. We used to tease Roberto for always having at least two large cameras strapped across his chest anytime we left the house. He was always behind the lens and rarely in front of it!

When the pandemic hit, Roberto lost interest in taking photos. He began to feel tired; he suddenly became impatient and moody.  All changes easily attributed to the impact of lockdown. One day while working from home, Roberto complained he was struggling to make sense of emails. We thought it was time for a new eyeglass prescription. But within a few days he became alarmed and emailed the GP.  Eventually, he was sent for blood tests which came back clear, and an MRI, which did not.

We got an urgent call from the GP to go straight to A&E where a neurologist would be waiting for us. With our nine-year-old son in tow, we rushed to the hospital. Once Roberto was finally admitted, my son and I were told to wait outside. I’ll never forget the call from the attending physician telling me my brilliant husband presented with the worst dementia symptoms he had ever encountered. But it wasn’t dementia. Instead, it was stage 4 brain cancer, the most aggressive type, glioblastoma.

A few weeks after receiving the diagnosis, on Father’s Day, my husband again was rushed to hospital. We were told he had deteriorated so quickly that the only way he could undergo radiotherapy and chemotherapy was as an inpatient at Guy’s in London. He spent more than a month in hospital slowly losing the ability to walk. When he finally came home, it was to a hospital bed in our downstairs bedroom. I stayed by his side. He needed help with everything – eating, drinking and washing. It was devastating to see my once strong husband so weakened and ultimately robbed of his dignity. 

By September, Roberto was admitted to St Christopher’s. The kindness we were shown as a family from the moment he arrived was incredible. Doctors took the time to speak privately to both myself and Gianluca about what we could expect. More importantly, they spoke to Roberto like the intelligent person he was, thereby preserving his dignity. More than once I cried on the shoulders of staff and volunteers. There were brief moments of happiness amongst the sadness. I’ll never forget how Emily, one of our favourite nurses, arranged to bring Roberto out in a wheelchair to the tennis club across the road to watch Gianluca play, or the three of us making clay handprints from the hospice’s art studio, or the lovely music therapist Sean playing The Girl from Ipanema on his electronic piano. With my family living in the US and Roberto’s family in Italy, St Christopher’s became the second family we desperately needed in our darkest hour and for that I am forever grateful.   

Roberto died peacefully in my arms in the hospice on November 11 2021, just seven months after diagnosis. As he slipped away, with nurse Emily holding both our hands, the setting sun blazed such intense fiery red orange and pink hues like I had never seen. I took comfort from the fact his suffering was over but for my little boy and myself ours was never ending. Thankfully, in the year that followed we both received support from St Christopher’s through group and individual counselling. I learned that kindness can be found even in the darkest of times. Something else that was a real godsend was the help I received from the Welfare Team sorting out my husband’s pension and our leased car, which I would have really struggled with on my own. We are so very grateful to all the staff at St Christopher’s.

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