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Sandra and Michael's story

When Michael Jeffs was given his terminal diagnosis, aged just 26, he turned to his mother, Sandra, who would be by his side for the remaining 18 months of his life, and said, ‘Mum, you’ve got to promise me you’ll be ok.’

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

Almost two years after his death, Sandra says it is Michael’s selfless words and the support she’s received from Thames Hospice’s Bereavement Counselling Team, that motivate her to get out of bed every morning.

Now, having waited for a moment of inspiration to provide her with a new purpose in life, Sandra has plans for a whole raft of fundraising events to mark what would have been Michael’s 30th birthday. She has set up a campaign called ‘30 for 30’ to support Thames Hospice as well as other charities that helped Michael and the whole Jeffs family when they needed it most.

Sandra says, “Michael was my day and night for years, so when he died I felt completely lost. I suddenly had a lightbulb moment that Michael would be turning 30 this year and that we should mark his birthday in a positive way by raising money for the charities that meant so much to Michael and our family.

“What started as a seed of an idea has grown and grown and has worked as a catalyst for people that knew and loved Michael to talk more.

“It’s becoming like a full-time job organising it now. We’re aiming to raise £30,000 but it’s about way more than the money. It seems to have given friends and family an avenue for their grief and made me realise they all needed a way to express how they felt about Michael. It’s bringing us close together and is having a broader impact than I could possibly have imagined.”

Family and friends will be jumping out of aeroplanes, climbing mountains on bikes in the Lake District, road racing to Brighton, taking part in Tough Mudder and hosting a coffee morning, with many more events being planned.

“I really hope we can help squash the myth that a hospice is a frightening place. It couldn’t be further from the truth” adds Sandra.

It’s true to say that Michael and his family had already endured a great deal by the time he was referred to Thames Hospice. In fact, Sandra says, the ordeal started almost 30 years ago when, aged three months, Michael was diagnosed with cancer in his eyes (Retinoblastoma). As a result he lost one eye and had intensive radiotherapy to save the other.

“Looking back, my grieving started for Michael when he was a baby”, Sandra recalls. “At 3 months old, Michael was oblivious to the worries we held for him and he grew up having a wonderfully happy childhood”.

"That’s not to say that the family didn’t have some very tough times throughout Michael’s illness and particularly towards the end of his life. Due to their collective determination to make the best of what time they had and the support they received from Thames Hospice, they were able to do many things they wanted together, as a family."

That happy childhood of quad biking, rugby playing and camping was followed by a very successful early adulthood, as Michael graduated from Birmingham University, secured a job with Apple and bought his own home.

“It was his dream job and he couldn’t quite believe it.”, says Sandra. “His life just took off with trips to California, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.”

At Michael’s annual check-up, aged 23, doctors found the cancer had returned. At no point, from then until his death five years later, despite numerous operations, punishing treatments and excruciating pain, did Michael display anything other than huge dignity and showed great care for others.

“The adversity he faced was beyond belief”, Sandra adds. “However, every time he came out of surgery he had his thumbs up because he didn’t want me worrying. He took everything in his stride and always thought about everyone else first. I can honestly say that he was the most thoughtful, brave, and kind person you could meet.”

Sandra was quite literally at Michael’s side throughout his illness – including when the doctors gave him his terminal diagnosis.

“It was the most devastating news you could imagine, but the first thing Michael said was, ‘Mum, you’ve got to promise me you’ll be ok.’”

It was then that Michael was referred to Thames Hospice. Looking back, Sandra says it was with dread that the family anticipated their first visit. It didn’t take long for the whole family to realise this fear was misplaced.

“From that first visit, until the moment he died, it was such a comfort to know that the Hospice Team were there to support us and do everything they could to make Michael as comfortable as he possibly could be. I remember one of the nurses explaining that palliative care was like someone wrapping their arms around us and that’s exactly what it was like.”

Sandra says, Michael particularly wanted to go back to Tom Kerridge’s restaurant, so we got in touch and they very kindly delivered an amazing food box that we were able to enjoy together.

“The last few weeks of Michael’s life were extremely hard. We were fortunate that with the help of the Hospice at Home Team, in accordance with Michael’s wishes, we were able to be at home together as a family. We made the most of every opportunity we had together and will always be incredibly grateful to everyone at the Hospice who facilitated that and supported us, showing so much kindness and compassion.”

That support included the pain relief Michael needed and help with practical matters like helping him to write a Will. He also received some counselling at the Hospice – a service Sandra has benefitted from hugely in two stages.

“I started seeing one of the Hospice’s Counselling Team, Mel, when Michael was given his terminal diagnosis. She was lovely and extremely understanding. My weekly sessions with Mel helped me so much in that pre-bereavement period.

“Shortly after Michael died, I went back to see Mel again. It felt like a continuous journey as she had been there throughout. I don’t think I’d be here today it wasn’t for her empathy and kindness. Our sessions were invaluable to me and I felt better placed to talk my feelings out with her, to then return home and support my husband and daughter.

Sandra’s other motivational force is of course the memory of Michael’s lust for life.

“There are so many days when I think I can’t face the day, but I hear his voice and I know it would be a disservice to him, because he would never have given up. He has been an inspiration for many people about how to live your life the best you can. I just need a new purpose to keep going – to keep moving forward even if it is only small steps.”

Overseeing a major programme of fundraising activity marking Michael’s 30th birthday and raising £30,000 in the process, are all without doubt, steps in the right direction.

“Michael went to great lengths to write his own story about his life, which was a gift to us a family. It has been read across the world. One message he asked us to promise to share was this, which he took from a book by Norm MacDonald.”

Don’t let anyone say “I lost my battle to cancer; that really bothers me. It implies that I failed and that somebody else that defeated cancer is heroic and courageous.

I’m pretty sure, although I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure when I die, the cancer dies too. That’s not a loss - that’s a draw.

“I hope that might help somebody, somewhere, like it helped Michael.”

Make a difference

Our services are free of charge to all those in our community who need vital hospice care but this is only made possible through the charitable support and generosity of our amazing community. We need to raise £38,363 each day to fund our services 365 days a year to the people who need us most.

We’ve never needed you, our wonderful supporters, more than we need you today. Please donate what you can to help keep hospice care available for those in desperate need.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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