Saying goodbye to my valentine
Emily and Mark Taylor met on a blind date and were engaged after 6 months. They were happily married for 23 years with two beautiful children, Max and Lily. Their lives changed in 2018 when Mark was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. Here Emily shares their story about Mark’s incredible positivity as he coped with his ill health and numerous operations and how Saint Francis Hospice was there to care and support the family so Mark was able to have a good death.
Mark was the most amazing dad and husband. We were his world and he was ours. We were together 25 years. We met on a blind date. I used to work with Mark’s sister Helen and although I always knew about Mark, I had never met him. We were both in our late 20’s then and both single and one day, Helen said to me, “Why don’t you go on a date with my brother? You won’t fancy him but you’ll get on well!”
Mark and I when we first got together
He came to my flat in north London and we went for a drink. We really hit it off. At first, I just saw him as my friend Helen’s brother but something just clicked. We were engaged six months later and by then I felt like I had known him my whole life. He made me laugh and he was handsome as well so that was an added bonus! We got married in 1999 and a couple of years later had Max and then Lily. Life was good and our little family complete.
Proud Dad with Max and baby Lily
Fighting cancer together
Mark was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer at the beginning of 2018. He had chemotherapy, radiotherapy and major surgery called an Ivor Lewis, which involved removing his oesophagus and three quarters of his stomach. It was life changing but it was successful and he was going to get better.
The pandemic then hit and unfortunately during this time, I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. Together with the children, Mark helped to care for me after my mastectomy and we were eventually told thankfully that my cancer had all been removed. It was a huge relief and we thought that we were both then on the road to recovery and would just get on with our lives as best we could.
Unfortunately, 6 months later (and 2 years after Mark’s original diagnosis), we were given the devastating news that his cancer had come back in his lungs. Surgery was not an option so he had more chemotherapy. We were told it was treatable but incurable. Mark said, “OK, it is treatable, let’s keep going. I’m going to do the things I want to do because my time is now limited.”
Mark, Emily, Max and Lily together
In December 2021 a lump came up on Mark’s arm. Two weeks before Christmas, Mark had a scan and we found out the cancer had now spread to his muscles and his bones. That was when his oncologist told him he was now terminal and she was going to refer him to Saint Francis Hospice. Those words were terrifying.
A referral to the Hospice came as a shock
We looked at each other - we thought if you are referred to Saint Francis Hospice that it was a place you were sent to die, little did we know how wrong we were. We had muddled on for four years and now it felt out of our control and he was not going to get better.
Mark was adamant he was not going to the hospice, he was going to stay at home. A few days later, we got a call from the hospice and the nurse was so lovely. A doctor and a nurse came around to our home and they explained what they did and why they were there. The nurse said she would call in once a week and that put Mark at ease. For a few weeks she would come every week and she put various measures in place for us to manage Mark’s symptoms at home.
Seeing someone you love in pain is the worst thing ever. Mark was in so much pain and I was getting overwhelmed with his pain relief medication. He was on a concoction of different tablets and liquid morphine. It got to a stage where I had to set an alarm as he needed morphine every two hours.
When the nurse came to see Mark, she asked if he would come to the hospice for pain management but he refused. He said, “If I go in there, I will not come out. I am not ready yet.” She sat with him and explained that the hospice was not a place to just go and die, it was a place of respite and to manage pain and symptoms for patients too. The plan for him was to go in for pain management and to then come home.
The next day, it got to the stage where Mark’s pain was so bad. Mark said, “I have to go in there. I cannot do this anymore.”
I rang the hospice and two days later, one of the community team rang and said there was a bed for Mark on the ward.
Staying at the Hospice
On 15 January 2022 we were getting Mark ready to go to the hospice but he was in so much pain it took four hours to get out of the house.
As soon as we walked through the doors of the hospice, I breathed a sigh of relief and said to myself, Thank God! We have finally got him here!
The team sat him down and gave him his medication. Everyone was so caring and kind. Caroline, who was one of the nurses, spent hours with us. She was so calm and she put Mark at ease so quickly and so easily. She had such a wonderful demeanour about her.
Mark with the nurses during his stay on the ward
Here was a man who was so against coming to the hospice. Then he was faced with this wonderful nurse. She sat and chatted with Mark and in the end, he was having a laugh.
He was on the ward for four weeks and he was as comfortable as he could be.
The hospice gave us some quality time as a couple. He was the absolute love of my life but he was also my best friend and I could just be with him as his wife rather than his carer.
I was there every day and Max and Lily would come up to visit every afternoon. We actually had a nice time. The hospice just has the most wonderful feel about it and everyone that works there are so lovely.
Mark's final journey
On the day Mark was due to come home, he was in so much pain that he couldn’t even get out of bed and into his wheelchair.
Dr Corinna came to see him and said, “let’s try again tomorrow.” The next day came and he was still so unwell and that’s when he said he wanted to stay at the hospice.
Those last few days will always be so important to us. We had watched Mark in excruciating pain for so long. He was monitored so closely and we knew he was pain free. When someone is in pain, you can see it in their face and during those last few days, I could see he was peaceful.
The nurses had prepared us for everything that may happen so it wasn’t scary. That was so important, especially as Lily was only 15 and Max was 20 so both very young to be dealing with a loss this great. Max, Lily and I were with him when he took his last breath. We sat with Mark and said everything we wanted to say. It was Valentine’s Day 2022 and he was 54.
Mark with his family at his bedside on the ward
The nurses were so careful and gentle with Mark. The children saw that he wasn’t in pain. It was so dignified and he looked like he was just sleeping and he still looked so handsome.
Emma, one of the nurses, came and gave each of us two knitted hearts. We gave Mark a heart and kept the other heart.
Emma also took one of Mark’s finger prints and gave it to us in a key ring.
Our experience of Saint Francis Hospice is overwhelmingly positive. Mark felt so strongly that if people were unfortunate enough to be told they had a terminal illness, that they should feel relief at being referred to the hospice, without any fear. It was this feeling that sparked Mark’s motivation to make others aware of this and share this story.