The Sally Army ready for the trek

The ‘Sally Army’

Sally was cared for on Martlets’ inpatient unit in 2019. When she became terminally ill with cancer, her friends and loved ones formed the ‘Sally Army’ to look after her and her family. They were there to support each other during the toughest of times. Here, Shoona and Elizabeth, talk about their enduring friendship with Sally and the care she received from Martlets. They tell us why they felt inspired to take part in our recent Sahara Trek to fundraise for the Hospice.

Martlets did everything they could to make our wonderful friend Sally as comfortable as possible during her last days and weeks. It was a real comfort knowing Sal was in the best place possible, receiving such amazing care. We didn’t know what to expect and thought it might be depressing, but as soon as we walked through the doors at Martlets there was a lovely, welcoming, calm atmosphere. Sally always said the staff treated her like a queen. They were so compassionate but never patronising and knew how to have a laugh and a joke which she loved. It was really evident that they saw Sally as a person rather than simply a patient.

‘Sally was a beautiful person and that really shined from the inside out into our lives. It was a privilege to have her as a friend.’

Before Sally died, we had been friends for 13 years and had so much fun together. She was a very sociable person and had been living in Brighton for a long time, so she knew so many people. Wherever we went and whoever we spoke to, Sal would be saying ‘hello’ or finding a connection between people which was lovely. She was so intelligent and articulate and we were always laughing. We went out a lot and walked the dogs together every Thursday. Even though Sally is no longer with us, we still walk her dog Jessie every week.

‘Martlets really took care of the small things and that made a big difference during Sally’s last days.’

Sally spent two weeks on Martlets’ inpatient unit (IPU) in January 2019. The doctors got her pain under control and managed her symptoms. She was then able to go home but her health had begun to decline quite quickly. So she returned to spend the last few days of her life at Martlets in February of that year.

During the two weeks she was on the IPU, there were some fairy lights up outside her room in the gardens; Christmas decorations that were about to be taken down. She was disappointed as she loved looking at them twinkling outside, so the nurses wrapped them around her bed frame. It was lovely gesture, just so thoughtful. Another day when we visited, and Sal was eating a meal, the nurses brought us cheesecake from the canteen so we could eat dessert along with her. It was another nice little touch, and all of those little things made a difference.

The sally army

‘It’s a lovely feeling to know that some of Sally’s suggestions will be incorporated into the new Martlets’ building and that other families will benefit.’

While Sal was staying on the inpatient unit, a member of the Martlets team happened to be showing some people round who were connected with the new building project. (Martlets will be building new facilities at the current site to ensure they continue to offer the very best care in years to come). Sally was asked what improvements she would like to see. Her daughter wanted to get into bed and cuddle up with her, but it was a bit of a squash so Sal suggested larger beds would be a good thing. She said she’d love it if every patient could have a ‘cuddle bed’ and if there could be more family space for loved ones to stay in patients’ rooms if need be. These suggestions are part of Sally’s legacy and it’s lovely to know they will be acted upon. Sally would be really happy about that.

‘We set up the Sally Army as a means of practical support for Sal and her family and to look after each other. We also put together a book with lots of photos, funny stories and memories from everyone as a way of showing Sal how much she was loved.’

Sally was given a terminal diagnosis about seven months before she died. She was only 53 and had a husband Den, and two teenage children, James and Alice. A whole load of Sally’s friends and family emailed photos and funny stories and so on which were put together in a book for Sally to look through. We wanted her to know how much she was loved, and she was loved hugely by so many people.

Some of us formed what we referred to as the ‘Sally Army’; friends and family connected via a WhatsApp Group. Each of us would make a meal each week to take over for Sal and her family, and we had a rota for picking up her medication and for walking her dog, Jessie. We still take Jessie out every Thursday, and we socialise with Den. We are very supportive of one another too, which has helped with the grieving process.

Sal had two jewellery boxes and loved wearing brooches. After she died, her daughter Alice selected a brooch for each of us which was such a lovely gesture. It’s a wonderful way to remember Sally and it was so generous of Alice to do that.

‘In March, we took part in the Sahara Trek with our daughters in memory of Sally and to fundraise for Martlets.’

We’re both fit and love walking and so do our daughters (who are 18 and 21). So, when we heard about Martlets’ Sahara Trek fundraiser it felt like a great opportunity. We wanted to give something back to say thank you to Martlets for caring so brilliantly for Sal. Originally, we were due to go in April 2020, but the COVID pandemic put a stop to the trip. It wasn’t until March of this year that we finally arrived in Morocco for our desert adventure.

The trip was something we knew Sal would have liked to have done, and it was lovely to be able to have that experience with our daughters. Before COVID hit in 2020, we did a lot of fundraising for the sponsored trek, including a massive charity quiz. To date, the four of us have raised more than £8,300 and in total Martlets raised over £32,000 from the event which is wonderful.

After the disappointment of the trek being cancelled in 2020, it was everything we had hoped it would be. Such a lovely group of people, all of us connected to Martlets in some way.

We’d talk with different members of the group while we trekked through the desert and shared our stories of why we were taking part. Our two Berber guides were wonderful and told us all about the Berber people’s nomadic lifestyle. I asked one of them if he knew the term ‘bittersweet’ and explained that it was a bittersweet experience for us. Obviously, we loved taking part, but we were there because Sally had died; Sal was uppermost in our minds while we were out there, and we talked about her a lot.

Our daughters had seen the grief we had been through in losing Sally and they knew how much this trip meant to us. They got on well and got so much out of the trip which was lovely to see. It was very special. One of our favourite memories was sitting around the campfire while the camel handlers drummed on the big, empty, food canisters, singing under a full moon. The food was phenomenal. They made amazing flatbreads in the fire which were delicious. We camped out at night and trekked up to 19km during the day through the sand dunes. It was an experience we’ll never forget. We would like to thank Martlets for making happen and for the amazing care they gave Sal.

You can share your memories of our building on our dedication page.