Charlotte Smith’s Story: “St Christopher’s was our beacon of hope”

Charlotte Smith died of breast cancer on 21 April, the day after her 37th birthday. Her husband Chris and her parents, Michael and Penny, kindly took the time to talk to us about Charlotte, their experiences of St Christopher’s and the fundraising they’ve been busy doing in her memory.

Chris:

“My wife, Charlotte, was very bubbly, friendly, caring, and chatty. She was also very into fashion and worked as Head of Merchandising at New Look’s Head Office. We found out the week before Christmas 2016 that Charlotte’s cancer had spread and her diagnosis was terminal. She started coming to St Christopher’s in January as an outpatient and came for counselling. Following serious surgery in February, she stayed here for two and a half weeks. Once Charlotte left hospital I’m not sure what the last couple of months would have been like without St Christopher’s – they made Charlotte herself again.

Charlotte said everyone at St Christopher’s had the ‘angel’ gene. The positivity it gave her, gave us a very valuable two months which she lived to the full. When you’re caring for someone who is terminally ill, you’re always worried about every little thing and so to have the support of St Christopher’s, knowing they were just a phone call away at any time, puts you at ease. St Christopher’s was our beacon of hope.

It was Charlotte’s birthday and we went to stay at the Shard’s Shangri-La Hotel. It was there that she passed away. After calling her Mum and Dad, I called St Christopher’s for guidance. They arranged to have Charlotte moved to the hospice, where we had a service for her in the viewing room. Charlotte had wanted to finish her journey at St Christopher’s so we were distressed that that hadn’t happened. Being able to fulfill her wishes and have time with Charlotte in the sanctuary of St Christopher’s meant at a great deal to us and gave us a sense of peace.

Charlotte had been planning to take part in St Christopher’s Fun Walk but sadly passed away before the day. The fundraising had kept Charlotte going – she’d wanted to give back to St Christopher’s as much as possible. It was a way for her to connect with people she hadn’t seen for a long time and it was moving to see they cared. She had many generous donations.

Charlotte’s funeral was on the Friday and the Fun Walk was on the Sunday. We had a team of 37 take part, with friends and family from Birmingham, Manchester, Bath – even Germany, Spain and New Zealand. It was uplifting to do it and it was fitting. We raised over £23,000. Charlotte had said ‘with money and love we will beat cancer’.

During her time at the hospice, Charlotte kept a journal of her thoughts and wishes – one being her desire for friends and family to continue to raise awareness of breast cancer and fundraise for St Christopher’s. On Friday 25 August, 14 of Charlotte’s friends and family set out on a three day and 57 mile walk from St Christopher’s to St Mary’s Church in Goring-by-Sea. This is the church where Charlotte was christened, where we got married, and where she is laid to rest.

We were determined to complete the challenge and raise awareness, not just in honour of our wonderful Charlotte but for all those people and families who rely on the hospice’s fantastic staff and facilities – just like we did. I find it comforting to have something to focus on, and to raise awareness and money at the same time. The money we raise will go towards refurbishing a Wellbeing and Salon room at the hospice – through fundraising I’m trying to do something positive in Charlotte’s name.”

Penny and Michael:

“At St Christopher’s Charlotte had both emotional and spiritual care, and her confidence built up too. When she was here she saw the dietician, the physio in the gym, she had cognitive therapy, saw complementary therapists and the spiritual team. And of course lots of wonderful volunteers. Charlotte loved pugs, bees and owls. We bought her little pug, Betty, in to see her at the hospice. The first time was quite a short visit and yet the second time Betty knew exactly where to find her.

It was an initially hard experience as a Dad to go to meet my daughter for lunch at a hospice, but as soon as I came here I could feel the warmth. St Christopher’s is just such a welcoming place and I felt hearten that Charlotte felt very safe here. The knowledge that St Christopher’s was here was a great comfort.

We had thought of hospices as a place where you go to die. Here it’s healing, and restorative. From a parents’ point of view, I thought it was fantastic that Chris had support at the end of the phone from people that understood. The doctor who came to see Charlotte at home was very generous with her time too. St Christopher’s is not just a building, it’s so much more. It’s a comforting blanket.”