In what has been a challenging time for all of us, Jennifer Pickavance, ‘Jen’, and her sister, Emma, and their wider family, have been through much more than many.
Jen and Emma’s mum, Michaela had been living with a primary diagnosis of lung cancer, complicated by tumours in her brain and vertebrae, since September 2017. Jen assures us that her Mum lived her life as well as she possibly could in these last few years, holidaying and socialising with friends whenever possible, before she sadly passed away at Wirral Hospice St John’s in April.
The hospice’s Jamie-Leigh and I met with Jen as she has volunteered to speak on a pre-recorded film we’re producing for our annual Light up a Life commemorations*, and she told us all about Michaela, her lovely Mum.
“She was my best friend, we spent every minute we could together and I couldn’t have asked for a better mum. I find it hard put into words how much she meant, and still means, to me and how much I love her.
After mum recovered from anxiety and panic attacks herself, she wanted to pursue a career in mental health to help others. She was in her 40’s when she attended Chester University to study Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). We were all so proud when she attained her Diploma in CBT and when, soon after which, she became a high intensity CBT therapist at Inclusion Matters, Wirral.
When her illness was first diagnosed it appeared that her prognosis wasn’t great, but Dr Carlo (Palmieri, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre) was amazing and found she had a rare type of lung cancer which meant her initial treatment would not have to be as intense as it sometimes can.
For two years, she was doing really well. She was as fit and healthy as she could be and, for the most part, got to enjoy the things she loved doing, nice holidays and being with family, she was close with her sisters Trisha, Donna and Lizzie (she was the second oldest) and had a wide circle of lovely friends.
By late 2019 however, the illness was catching up and she underwent radiotherapy and an intensive course of combined chemotherapy and immunotherapy. By January she’d experienced a seizure and was admitted to Wirral Hospice’s inpatients ward.
She had already been an outpatient at the hospice for over a year under Dr Helen (Emms, a consultant at the hospice), whom she loved, and Mum had also been a patient in the hospice’s Wellbeing Centre where she took part in arts and crafts and aromatherapy sessions which she really enjoyed.
She was able to access counselling too which I think helped her a lot. The hospice was a whole new experience for her. I knew she felt safe and at ease in the calm and caring atmosphere of the hospice.
The hospice team really helped her manage her anxiety and went above and beyond for her.
Her 53rd birthday fell on the 8th March and the hospice helped us arrange a party in their family room which meant a great deal to us all. It’s a lovely memory we will cherish forever. She liked everyone she met at the hospice and had a special regard for the hospice’s Tracy, and many others, who showed her so much care and compassion and always managed to cheer her up.
I know my mum would have loved to be at home towards the end of her life but it wasn’t possible and the hospice was actually the perfect place for her as they cared for her in ways I don’t think we could have.
I can’t thank the hospice staff enough for what they did for our family, one of the nurses, Sandy, held my mum’s hand in the moment she passed away. That’s not a job just anybody could do, I will always appreciate that and hold it in my heart forever.
I am so beyond grateful for everything the hospice did for us, and does for others. I have never experienced the loss of a loved one before. The hospice made our heartbreaking experience that little more bearable.
The continued support they’ve given me is so appreciated, I am forever grateful”.
It was a devastating time in itself for Jen, Emma and the family, Michaela was only 53, but their pain was further compounded when, in the same week, their Nan, Pat, and Grandad, George, Michaela’s parents, passed away after succumbing to COVID 19.
It’s been, simply, heartbreaking!
At only 23 years of age Jen has coped with so much this year. She has a great supportive network of aunties, uncles, cousins, her Dad and his family and lots of close friends. She talks all the time to her sister, Emma, who lives in London with her boyfriend, and who makes regular trips home to Wirral for ‘quality sister time‘ whenever they can.
Jen also looks after and takes great comfort from their dog, Candy, a cute Bichon Frise.
Jamie-Leigh and I came away from meeting Jen in complete admiration. She’s been, understandably, tearful at times, but so brave and so eloquent.
She’s a real credit to her whole family and, of course, Michaela, her lovely mum!
NB: *(Due to the COVID-19 restrictions and to keep everyone safe, the hospice has made the difficult decision to cancel the annual outdoor Light up a Life switch-on service for this year.
The hospice is instead endeavouring to reach out to even more families across Wirral with a pre-recorded film of the lights switch on service. This will be available to view from the comfort of people’s own homes, via the hospice’s website, from 6pm on Sunday 6th December.
The short film will capture the spirit of the lights switch-on, interspersed with carols from a socially-distanced hospice choir featuring locally renowned singer, Sarah Mullis. It will also contain the recollections of people, like Jen, whose families have experienced the hospice’s dedicated care as well as heartfelt thoughts and readings from the hospice team, including some wonderful volunteers.
More details can be found at www.wirralhospice.org/light-up-a-life