Burntwood man lifts the lid on life as a carer

A carer from Burntwood has been revealing the pressures of looking after a loved one.

Christine Haywood with her husband and carer, Colin, in the Day Hospice and Senior Staff Nurse Nicky Holmes

Christine Haywood with her husband and carer, Colin, in the Day Hospice and Senior Staff Nurse Nicky Holmes

Colin Haywood, from Chase Terrace in Burntwood is one of an estimated six million carers in the UK who provide unpaid care for someone the know.

Carers Week 2009 (June 8-14) aims to recognise the role played by the UK’s ‘Secret Service’ of carers, and St Giles Hospice is keen to encourage carers to find out about the help and advice available locally, to make their lives easier.

But as Colin explained, the term carer is difficult to define:

“I don’t consider myself to be a carer, just a husband to my wife in sickness and in health. You help in whatever way you can, but gradually the responsibility becomes more and more.”

Since his wife Christine was diagnosed in December 2004 with multiple myeloma – cancer of the bone marrow – 67-year-old Colin has been her main carer through her treatment, and the only regular respite he receives is when Christine attends the St Giles Day Hospice in Whittington on Fridays. 

Former civil servant Colin said:

“The diagnosis came shortly after I had retired. Chris had been suffering from back pain and it turned out that the myeloma, which weakens the bones, had caused two of her vertebrae to collapse. In one day all our retirement plans were knocked on the head.

 “We were told that myeloma isn’t curable, only manageable, but the doctors can’t tell you what will happen in the future. You can’t plan for it, so you just take caring on board and do all that you can each day.”

As well as doing the housework and shopping, Colin uses the time 61-year-old Christine is at St Giles Day Hospice to get out on his bike – his way of relaxing and keeping fit.

Colin explained:

“I’m lucky because I have been healthy. “I can’t remember having had a day off work due to illness, and it’s certainly not something you can do as a carer. But the older I get, the demands will become greater and so I need to stay healthy for Chris.

“St Giles gives me a chance to relax because I know she is in good hands. If I go out, even for an hour, and leave Chris at home I’m on edge the whole time wondering if she’s ok. That is one of the things people don’t always realise – even when you’re not with the one you’re caring for, you continue to care about them and feel responsible.”

Christine enjoyed a 14 month spell of remission following a stem cell transplant in July 2005, and last year they had hoped for a new breakthrough. A new drug, which seemed to offer longer periods of remission became available – but Christine had a devastating reaction.

The drug caused her kidneys to fail and she now has to receive dialysis three times a week at the renal unit in Castle Vale, with each day’s session taking around five hours. Chris said:

“Myeloma was hard to accept. But dialysis changes your life completely. Chris had to start treatment the day after they diagnosed her kidney problems, and she will need it for the rest of her life.”

Christine can’t have a kidney transplant because the cancer drugs mean she is very likely to reject a transplanted organ, but the couple are hoping she will soon be able to have dialysis at the Samuel Johnson Community Hospital in Lichfield . Without so far to travel, Colin can pop home and get jobs done while Chris is having her treatment.

While Christine receives a small Disabled Living Allowance, Colin’s pension means he doesn’t qualify for the £53.10 a week Carers Allowance. He has also received no formal training for the role.

He revealed how lonely and difficult life can be for carers:

“I do feel isolated sometimes, and caring is emotionally draining, but we do receive support from St Giles. Chris finds the Day Hospice very beneficial and looks forward to going to talk to people and receive the relaxing therapies they offer to patients and their carers. In fact, I am considering having a Reiki session myself, on Chris’ recommendation!”

To find out more about Carers Week, and about the support St Giles Hospice offers to local people and their carers, contact Jayne Tooth in Day Hospice on 01543 432031 or email jayne.tooth@st-giles-hospice.org.uk.

St Giles Hospice is a registered charity offering high-quality medical and nursing care for people with cancer and other serious illnesses, as well as providing support for their families and carers.

Patients come from across the hospice’s catchment area, which ranges from Ashby de la Zouch and Atherstone in the east, to Cannock and Walsall in the west – and from Burton and Uttoxeter in the north, to Sutton Coldfield and Coleshill in the south.

Care is offered at the hospice’s facilities in Sutton Coldfield and Whittington between Lichfield and Tamworth , or in patients’ own homes across the region.

St Giles spends £6 million every year providing its specialist services and with less than a third of this funded by the Government, relies heavily on donations and fundraising.

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Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

1 Comment

  1. Bitter Crinkly

    9th June, 2009 at 1:48 am

    First I must say good luck to you both and I hope you get all the help you need.

    My experience is that the Social Services are NOT there to help people like me – a full time carer who has worked all my life and paid (still paying) tax.
    When my wife first needed a wheel chair ,recommended by our doctor,while under three consultants (due to multiple organ failure) I was told she would have to wait for an “inspection” as they were busy giving wheelchairs to “prisoners” as they came first!
    After waiting 5 months and many phone calls asking why was I waiting I was told consultants were not qualified to say if a chair was needed .

    Then when I tried to complain they put so many obstacles in my way I gave up – I guess thats what they wanted!

    We do not claim disability (or what ever its called) or help for carer and frankly it is most unlikely we would ask for help following our experience.
    I would add that from the medical side our doctor is very good and keeps telling us we should get help.
    The wheelchair I purchased is still going strong and without it she would be permanently in the lounge chair.

    I am sorry if the above looks a bit strong but i think it is quite mild as they would not print what i would realy like to write.