Jo’s story

Kindly shared by her sons, Jack and James.

Jo was a teacher and a life-long learner – a friend to many, who was always first on the dance floor.

She lived with breast cancer for 16 years but was able to enjoy many more adventures with her family. That, and her creativity – including writing journals and poems – helped Jo process her illness.

When she came to the end of her life, St Barnabas House was there to care for her and help the family say their goodbyes.

Jo’s sons, Jack and James, take up her story.

Running alongside at the rugby

Mum was a gregarious, funny and passionate person with a lot of hobbies.

She kept diaries her whole life, was an avid reader and liked to knit and crochet. When Mum was growing up in East Preston, she used to score her dad’s cricket matches and a love of the sport stayed with her throughout her life.

She was also a rugby mum who supported James every Sunday – it’s easy to picture her still, running along the sidelines and shouting encouragements.

Mum and Dad shared a love of cycling and they went on many adventures.

When we were old enough, we joined them. When we were 15 and 11, we cycled 600 miles from Bilbao in Spain to St Malo in France together and some of our best family holiday memories probably come from that trip.

Mum always thought of herself as a Mod, which was ignited by her love for the Jam, particularly Paul Weller. She was a massive Kate Bush fan too. But she also loved disco and funk. Her top three songs of all time were: Down in the Tube Station at Midnight, Wuthering Heights and Heard it Through the Grapevine – in that order! She was always first on the dance floor, and most likely, the last off! We both have lots of great memories of dancing with Mum, which range from excruciating embarrassment to immense fun, most notably the Cha Cha Slide and Saturday Night.

She’d wanted to be a teacher from a very young age, and it was a big part of who she was.

Mum loved learning – she was still learning Italian on Duolingo until about a month before she died. That passion for knowledge is something she instilled in her students.

She was a geography teacher, but loved pastoral care too. She had a 30-year teaching career, for the most part at Steyning Grammar School, which included being Assistant Head and Head of Lower School, looking after Years 7 and 8. That is a tricky time for children as they transition to secondary school, and she loved helping them through it.

Jo with her sons

We were only seven and ten when Mum was first diagnosed with breast cancer, and her illness brought us closer as a family.

Growing up, it affected us significantly, but Mum was extremely open, so we discussed how we felt about everything. We thought we had seen the back of hospitals and chemotherapy when Mum finished treatment for her primary cancer in 2011.

Sadly, in 2015 we discovered the cancer had come back and could no longer be cured. This made us truly cherish every moment we had together. Mum maintained her unwavering positivity throughout both of her diagnoses and many treatments. That really helped the whole family cope – as did our beloved dog Billy, who has been a rock to the whole family.

Around 10 days before Mum died, we received the news that it was time to come off treatment completely and focus on palliative care. It was a shock to all of us, but not to her. She had lost her dad at a similar age, and she told us it would be painful at first but eventually we would be okay, and we would be able to look back on all the memories with happiness.

Our first contact with St Barnabas House was around six months before she died.

At that point they just let us know that they were there in the background, ready to help when we needed it. Mum wanted to stay at home as long as she could, and she was able to do that because of St Barnabas.

For the last three months she was pretty much bed-bound, and Dad cared for her full-time. He was incredibly selfless and showed his dedication and love for Mum. The community nurses came out regularly and knowing that they were on the end of a phone made the world of difference.

The NHS is amazing, and really supported Mum through her whole illness, but the care from St Barnabas was on another level.

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St Barnabas House hospice front entrance

In her last days, Mum went into St Barnabas for symptom management and the difference in her was astounding.

She went from being beside herself the whole time – feeling sick, unable to eat, just feeling absolutely dreadful – to being comfortable and relaxed. Everything changed when she entered the hospice environment, with the right pain and symptom management.

Mum loved foot massages – she was always getting Dad to rub her feet – and she had one from the complementary therapist, which she was very happy about. Being at St Barnabas allowed her to be herself and die as herself, which was a gift to her and to us.

Jo and her family

We couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity the nurses gave us to say a meaningful goodbye to Mum individually.

We both agree that she was holding on for that. By asking if anyone wanted some time alone with her, the nurses enabled us to say what we wanted to her, and she could be at peace.

A lot of people would have called Mum their best friend. And our family friends have continued to be here for us afterwards.

If we ever have an issue or want to talk about anything we have so many people to go to, and those relationships were all fostered by Mum – they’re a wonderful gift she has left behind.

Mum taught us to love life, always be positive and always make it onto the dance floor for Cha Cha Slide. Everything we do now is underpinned with wanting to make her proud and trying to live up to the incredible person she was.

Thank you for reading Jo's story.

Your support today helps us care for all our patients and their families in the weeks ahead

£29

could provide an hour of specialist end-of-life care and emotional support for a patient in their last days of life

£52

could fund an art therapy session for a group of bereaved people, helping them to navigate their grief, express themselves and build new friendships

£92

could provide a new hospice patient a home visit from a Community Nurse Specialist - assessing their symptoms and providing emotional support

Make a dedication

Dedicate a sunflower to a loved one and be part of our Sunflower Memories remembrance celebration.

Go to dedicate a sunflower

If you would like to support local people like Jo, Jack and James, please consider making a donation.

Any contribution that you can make will go such a long way towards helping us care for all our patients in the weeks ahead, whether here in the hospice or in their own homes.

£
could provide an hour of specialist end-of-life care and emotional support for a patient in their last days of life.
could fund an art therapy session for a group of bereaved people, helping them to navigate their grief, express themselves and build new friendships.
could provide a new hospice patient a home visit from a Community Nurse Specialist - assessing their symptoms and providing emotional support.
STB - Sunflower Memories 2024 - Jos story - Website - Featured image
Donate today

Donate today

If you wish to help us provide essential hospice care and support to people in the local community without dedicating a sunflower, you can do so here.
£
could provide an hour of specialist end-of-life care and emotional support for a patient in their last days of life.
could fund an art therapy session for a group of bereaved people, helping them to navigate their grief, express themselves and build new friendships.
could provide a new hospice patient a home visit from a Community Nurse Specialist - assessing their symptoms and providing emotional support.

Donate today

If you wish to help us provide essential hospice care and support to people in the local community without dedicating a sunflower, you can do so here.
£
could provide an hour of specialist end-of-life care and emotional support for a patient in their last days of life.
could fund an art therapy session for a group of bereaved people, helping them to navigate their grief, express themselves and build new friendships.
could provide a new hospice patient a home visit from a Community Nurse Specialist - assessing their symptoms and providing emotional support.