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Why Imogen is running the 2021 London Marathon for Martlets

Intensive Care nurse Imogen Stringer is fundraising in memory of her dad Ian, who died of terminal cancer last year. She is running the 2021 London Marathon for Martlets, as her dad’s love for running has become her passion too. Imogen tells us about the care Martlets provided for her family and also shares her experience of working as a nurse during COVID this past year.

“My dad had a brain tumour and was diagnosed with terminal cancer in May 2020. From the very first day, Martlets were just brilliant. The support of the community team allowed him to stay at home as long as possible. Access to Martlets’ 24-hour phone hub meant that my dad and stepmum had help to manage situations even in the early hours. My Dad was extremely fit and active and was keen to maintain his independence for as long as possible. Martlets’ community services provided a wide range of support to help him live as independently as possible at home.

In October, Dad’s condition deteriorated quite rapidly, which meant he often became distressed. He was unable to communicate with us effectively, so we found it hard to know what to do to help him. One night in particular, my stepmum required help so called the Martlets phone hub at 3am for advice; it was so reassuring knowing they were there. Having access to support at all hours was something we were extremely thankful for.

Help at home

To keep Dad safe when moving around the house and garden, Martlets arranged for grip handles to be installed. His needs changed quickly, but Martlets swiftly organised for a hospital bed in the front room and a commode. This equipment gave us some reassurance that he could still enjoy life at home for as long as possible.

The community nurses that visited were brilliant, not just with my dad, but with my stepsister, stepmum and me. They would always be so welcoming and caring to us as a family. We also had night sitters to care for Dad during that last week he was at home. My stepmum was utterly exhausted and having the sitters there meant she could attempt to rest, knowing Dad was safe. They were so lovely and supportive, and you knew their care was genuine rather than it just being a job.

Care during Dad’s last days

In the last week of Dad’s life, his needs became too great for him to be cared for at home. So, it was decided it would be best to be cared for in a hospice. Unfortunately, Martlets’ inpatient unit was full at that point. It was in the middle of COVID and healthcare resources were stretched everywhere. Instead, he went to another hospice in Sussex for the last few days.

Even though Martlets didn’t have the capacity in their Inpatient Unit (IPU), they liaised with other local hospices for us. They made sure he could go into another hospice the same day and arranged transport promptly. It reduced the stress on us as a family. Also, it was reassuring to know that Martlets didn’t stop caring just because they didn’t have space in their IPU.

My dad passed away peacefully on 11 November 2020. He lived graciously and courageously with his cancer until the very end. By him inspiring, teaching and loving us, he was a role model all the way through.

Even after Dad died, we were still supported by being offered bereavement counselling through Martlets. Knowing that this service was there if we needed it provided great security and comfort.

Working as a nurse during COVID

Throughout the COVID pandemic I have been working in an intensive care unit (ICU) at a London hospital. The pandemic presented many challenges. But it was ever more difficult knowing Dad didn’t have long left and I couldn’t be with him all the time. I would travel from London to Brighton between shifts to be there. But switching off my professional nursing head to allow myself to simply be a daughter was difficult.

One particular shift at work, I was looking after a nursing colleague who had been admitted to our ICU. But due to multiple restrictions, I could only video call her family for them to say goodbye. Tears were streaming down into my PPE, and my heart was breaking. But there wasn’t much time for reflection before I had to perform resuscitation for another patient nearby. There were nine bodies waiting to be sent to the morgue that shift.

I remember crying and crying on my way down to see my dad. I felt overwhelmed, and was thinking I’m not sure if I can cope with much more death and dying today. Despite this I felt I had to be strong for my dad and family. I certainly wasn’t able to switch off my professional nursing head when I left work. Even now, I never really feel I’m able to leave death behind when I leave work.

Thankfully, we are now receiving fewer patients with COVID and there is hopefully light at the end of the tunnel. But there is still the overwhelming presence of exhaustion and burnout amongst my colleagues.

Running the 2021 London Marathon for Martlets

From Dad’s first contact with Martlets, he and my stepmum had a clear-out and sold many items of furniture. Dad donated all money raised to Martlets as he was adamant he wanted to give something back.

My dad’s terminal diagnosis was a rollercoaster, but Martlets carried us through this journey with love, care and compassion. They supported us every step of the way. It meant that Dad could live the last of his life with the dignity and respect he deserved. Now I can carry on his fundraising for him by running for #TeamMartlets.

Dad discovered the joy of running later in life, but this didn’t stop him and his collection of medals. He ran his first marathon in Paris on his 50th birthday, and I couldn’t have been more proud. Who else decides to celebrate turning 50 by running 26 miles having never previously run a few years before?!

His determination inspired me, and he quickly had me hooked on the running bug too. The brain tumour caused him to lose his balance (among other side effects). However, it still didn’t stop him from missing any father daughter running time. He was my ultimate, inspirational running coach.

We entered the London Marathon ballot year after year with no success. So, in 2018, we ran the Barcelona Marathon, crossing the finish line together. I’ve now lost count of how many runs we undertook together. In fact, I have never entered a competitive run without Dad.

Will you sponsor me in the 2021 London Marathon to run in memory of my dad?

I’m really excited to be running the 2021 London Marathon. It’s been something positive to aim for and given me great motivation during what has been a tough year. I’ll be making my dad proud by finally living the dream we had long wished for. And I’ll be raising money to help Martlets continue their wonderful work supporting families like ours, affected by terminal illness.

I know things are not easy at the moment, but any amount you can donate would be appreciated. You can donate via my Just Giving page. It will help Martlets keep on caring, and supporting local people when they need it most. Thank you so much in advance for your generosity.”

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