Karen's Story

Karen’s Story

Karen and her parents were all diagnosed with terminal cancer within a four-month period. It was a devastating time for the family, but since then Martlets has supported Karen and helped her maintain her mobility and independence. 

“Within a four-month period, Mum, Dad, and I were diagnosed with terminal cancer.  

We’d hoped that the summer of 2021 would be the start of better times, post-Covid times, when our family could meet more regularly. That wasn’t to be.  

In July 2021, I went to stay with mum, 79, and dad, 82, for a long weekend at their home in Wiltshire where I’d grown up. During that stay Dad had a GP appointment to review test results which confirmed he had terminal prostate cancer. Mum was terribly worried. They’d been married for almost 60 years. Three days later I had to return to Brighton for work, but a day later Dad called me. I knew something was wrong as Mum always did the calling.  

Mum had been taken by ambulance to hospital in Bath after collapsing on the bedroom floor. She was seriously ill following a stroke. I moved in with Dad and worked from their home so that my brother, sister and I could help him with his cancer treatment while visiting Mum daily.

She had always been larger-than-life and worked until her mid-70s, but now she looked tiny and vulnerable.  

Mum never recovered and died 12 weeks after her stroke. Just before she died, a consultant told me she had reviewed Mum’s scans which showed that Mum had ovarian cancer. This increased the risk to my sister and I of developing breast or ovarian cancer.  

The following week was a blur of dealing with Mum’s affairs and organising her funeral.  

It was during this time I developed a cough which I thought was due to living with Dad who is a smoker. I remember being slightly breathless when running across the hospital car park or up the many flights of stairs. I used to run a 5k every other day to keep fit and to support my mental wellbeing. However, I’d developed a stitch feeling in my right side. My GP sent me for a chest X-ray at Hove Polyclinic and I was sent from there to the hospital immediately. 

On 9 November, 2021, I was alone in A&E when I was told I had terminal cancer in my liver and lung, although the type was not known. It was nine days after Mum had died. It was surreal and terrifying. I wanted my mum even though I was 55 years old. I wasn’t sure if I was asleep and having a nightmare.  

The next few weeks I spent in and out of hospital, writing my mum’s funeral eulogy from a hospital bed. I missed Mum’s funeral because I was in hospital quite unwell. I’d been taken to Guy’s Hospital in London for a lung operation and biopsy where breast cancer was confirmed.  

I started chemotherapy. There was a time when I was so seriously ill the Intensive Care Unit that the outreach team came to my bed. After four months my health stabilised enough for me to be discharged home in a wheelchair, using oxygen. I had no hair, the muscles in my legs had wasted due to steroids and I couldn’t get up the step to my front door or manage stairs without help. I used a walking frame to reach the toilet and needed support with basic tasks.  

Within weeks of my cancer symptoms appearing, I was unrecognisable. I was grieving for my mum and what felt like the loss of my own life. I was ‘a mess’ until Martlets appeared at my home.  

While Martlets is a high-profile local organisation, until I worked closely with the team there I had no true understanding of the role and services it offers and the positive impact it plays in supporting people and families.  

During one of the home visits, we discussed how I was going to become independent again. It seemed a huge mountain to climb. I didn’t know where to start. I wasn’t well enough for a gym, and personal trainers with knowledge of helping cancer patients with complex needs didn’t seem to exist, particularly with a client using portable oxygen. But Martlets told me about their amazing gym and rehabilitation team.  

I hadn’t left home in months and I was anxious on my first day. But I was given a warm welcome by Angie, a physiotherapist technical instructor who really knows her stuff and has reassuring people skills. We started a programme of seated cardio exercises, stretching, and strength training to deal with specific issues such as joint and muscle pain, and building my cardio capacity to help get me off my oxygen machine. Angie listened and we laughed.  

The gym sessions not only provided me with expert help, which was life changing at a very dark time, but I was also out of the house and laughing and talking about normal stuff, not illness. I always felt safe and able to work at my own pace. Almost 18 months on, I’m living independently, oxygen free, and my goal now is to try and maintain as much mobility as I can and to have techniques to manage the side effects of some of the treatments.  

Karen before her treatment and after

Karen before rehab treatment using oxygen and heart rate monitor and then Karen oxygen-free after rehab treatment

Angie’s weekly online sessions have given me the mental and physical strength to return to a different ‘normal’ life so I can enjoy the time I have. The hardest part was overcoming my fear of asking for help, and starting to exercise when I was so poorly, but Martlets made what seemed impossible, possible. 


Angie Steel, physiotherapist technical instructor, talks about the importance of the new gym and rehab facilities that Martlets is building: 

“The facilities at our new Hospice will be a fantastic resource for patients. Our rehabilitation team provides occupational therapy and physiotherapy to those receiving hospice care at home or staying on our inpatient unit. We help people take back control of their symptoms and find ways to manage them in their day-to-day lives. Many people find the idea of going to a public gym very daunting – even more so when they’re terminally ill.

Our new gym and the increased space that it will provide will enable us to offer safe supervised exercise with specialised equipment in a friendly environment on a one-to-one basis. We will also be able to offer group classes which we have not been able to do previously. It will make a huge difference to the level of support we can offer to both patients and their families. The whole team are really excited about the new build and cannot wait to move back in when it is completed.

At Martlets, we rely on the generosity of our local community to support everyone who needs us. Donations small and large mean the world to us and ensure we can keep on caring for people like Karen. As we move into the new Hospice building, we need your support more than ever so please consider supporting Martlets if you can. Thank you.”  

How you can support our new hospice building:


Published 14/09/2023