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“Each day is a blessing. I’m a fighter and I’m not going anywhere.”
Mark Reipond, 51, has kindly shared his story. Here, he talks openly about the shock of being told he had bowel cancer, the support he has received from St Barnabas House and life with cancer during coronavirus.
I’ve always worked since the eighties and then, bang, it’s like I’m retired. I was driving large vehicles for a living – buses and coaches – but that’s all come to a grinding halt because of my illness. I love working, so it was a hard thing to have to stop.
When I was told in June 2017 that I had grade 4 bowel cancer, it was a big shock. Especially as the only symptom I had gone to the doctor with was some bleeding. Apart from that, I was in pretty good health.
You hear about these kinds of diagnoses and see actors and actresses portray cancer on TV, but you don’t expect it to happen to you.
It was a long journey from then onwards, with so many scans, tests, operations and some strong courses of chemotherapy which left me feeling really unwell.
Following a period of two months remission, in 2018 doctors found the cancer had spread to my liver and another tumour had also sprung up in my abdomen. Both were inoperable which was really upsetting as I just wanted to be free of cancer.
In the back of your mind, you can’t help but think, why me? But it is what it is, I can’t change it. Knowing there’s no cure, I was referred to St Barnabas House for palliative care in November 2019.
I’ve found that when people hear the term ‘palliative’ or ‘hospice’, they can panic and assume you only have weeks left of your life. But, it doesn’t mean that in my case. Whilst I can’t be cured, there are so many things that can help ease my symptoms and enhance my quality of life. This is where St Barnabas House has been so amazing.
When I was first referred to the Day Hospice, I came to have a look around and I’ve never looked back. I go along for the day every Thursday, apart from at the moment as the service is closed temporarily because of coronavirus.
I’ve made some really good friends and look forward to seeing everyone each week. We’re like a little family. The staff, volunteers and patients all have an amazing rapport and we chat about all sorts of stuff. I’m a people person and really enjoy the interaction – it’s nice to feel like you can be yourself and have a laugh despite the difficult times.
There’s plenty of activities that go on – art, shows, games, cooking, gardening and day trips. I used to DJ professionally, so I’ve also hosted a few music quizzes for everyone which is a real laugh. The other patients I’ve met are all ages, so I play a large spectrum of songs from the 50s through to today. I try not to make it too easy for everyone!
The atmosphere is what keeps me coming back. The nurses, volunteers and Day Hospice team are always smiling. You can see that they really enjoy what they do and they make so many lives more comfortable for people like me.
One thing that has really helped me is my time with the Therapy Team in the hospice gym and my new found love of shadow boxing. Having never boxed before, I’m now known as the St B’s Stinger!
When I’m boxing, I think of it as me verses my cancer, or ‘Mr C’ as I like to call it. I would describe Mr C as a friend you don’t want to be friends with. You try and block it out as best you can, thinking ‘I don’t want to know you, you’ve ruined my life.’ But, it’s always by your side and I have to deal with the fact that it’s part of me.
Boxing allows me to get all my frustration out and show Mr C that he’s not going to beat me. It’s good for my muscles and my breathing, but it also gives me a sense of wellbeing and helps to take me away from my thoughts for a while. I always feel amazing afterwards.
At the moment, I’m having to shield in my flat so I haven’t been able to see anyone properly for a long time. During this period, I’ve found the hospice’s weekly telephone counselling sessions really helpful. Instead of bottling things up and overanalysing – which is easy to do when you live on your own – chatting to the counsellor has helped me to get some perspective and stopped me from feeling like I might boil over.
Another way the hospice has helped me to relax and unwind is through having complementary therapies, things like reflexology, hand massages and Indian head massages. I find I go into a little trance and the therapies help to take away some of the tension which can build up.
Whilst I’ve been shielding, I’ve been getting regular calls from the clinical team at the hospice which I’ve found really supportive. Most of the time I can manage my own symptoms, but it’s nice to know that the doctors and nurses are always there for me if I’m feeling really unwell or unable to cope.
Lockdown and shielding have been a real struggle if I’m honest, because I’ve got no one else with me in my flat to chat to and share my time with. I’m missing that companionship and connection a lot.
Like a lot of others in my position, I’m looking forward to having some more freedom – to be able walk out of my door and interact with people. That’s why I can’t wait to go back to the Day Hospice on a Thursday.
It’s going to be a big celebration and I’m happy to play a bit music for everyone as I think we deserve a bit of a party!
I’d love to come out of this bubble and say goodbye to Mr C, but none of us can step back in time. So, instead, I’m focusing on planning ahead.
At the beginning of this year, my oncologist said to me to crack on with some of things I’ve always wanted to do. I love wildlife and adventure so apart from being desperate to see a cheetah in the flesh, my big goal is to try and get to Canada, hire an RV and just drive! It would be nice to go with someone if I can as it’s a long old journey on your own.
For anyone who has an incurable illness like me, I think it’s important to try and savour every moment and make the most of each day. I just want to enjoy life and have fun. I think I deserve that.