"The Hospice was like a home from home"
Hatti was a young woman who loved life. She was always positive and ready with a smile, spreading a sense of fun to those around her. But sadly her life was cut horribly short when in early January 2014, aged just 24, Hatti died from a rare form of cancer. Her sister and Thames Hospice Ambassador Kate, tells Hatti’s story.
“Hatti lived at home with Mum in Windsor, and after getting her degree at Newcastle University she worked in Public Relations in Guildford. She enjoyed life to the full and had a passion for travelling, music festivals and cheerleading. With a big age gap between us, we led very different lives until she turned 18 and I was 30. As adults we became incredibly close and very protective of each other. As she was younger, she always reminded me how to have fun; she made me feel younger.
“But in September 2013, everything changed when Hatti noticed a tiny lump on her back. The lump started to grow and Hatti went to the doctors on numerous occasions to have it checked. Each time she was told it was just a cyst and there was nothing to worry about, but the lump grew and then it started to hurt. In the end Hatti pushed the doctors to have it removed, but still the lump came back and got bigger. That’s when Hatti was sent to A&E and given the earth-shattering news that she had spindle cell sarcoma, a very rare form of cancer.
“Hatti was immediately whisked to the Royal Marsden Hospital to have an operation and afterwards she had radiotherapy. She worked every day during her radiotherapy, commuting to London for treatment in the evenings, and she even went to Glastonbury the day after her final treatment - determined not to let the disease get in the way of her life. However, eight weeks later, a scan revealed that the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes under her arm. So Hatti had yet another operation and again we thought she would be fine… but the cancer came back in her spine.
“It was too late for radiotherapy, so they decided to operate on her again, but this op came with serious warnings as it involved neurosurgery. Before the operation, she had a wonderful birthday party with her friends in London and danced all night. She looked the most beautiful I have even seen her; you would never have believed she was sick. We are so glad she had her party, as the following Monday she suddenly lost the use of her legs because the tumour was pressing on her spinal cord. The operation went ahead as an emergency; none of the doctors could believe how fast the cancer was spreading.
"I remember being so happy when she came round in intensive care and greeted us with her beautiful smile. We were all full of hope even though the neurosurgeon wasn’t able to remove all the cancer cells. After some recovery she tirelessly went through weeks of rehab and physio. Finally, just as she was able to stand, she went into decline. The cancer had come back. She had more radiotherapy and she was still determined not to give up, updating her friends on Facebook on her progress.
“In October the doctors proposed a course of chemo, although she had initially been advised it wouldn’t work on her type of cancer. As predicted, it didn’t work; it just made her dreadfully sick and weak and we were told there was nothing more they could do. Hatti was determined this wasn’t the end, and she continued to fight by adopting a special diet and alternative remedies; travelling for miles in pain to get treatment. Despite all this, things got worse very quickly.
“By Christmas Hatti was still paralysed from the waist down and had a tumour the size of an apple under her arm. Even being moved from her bed into her wheelchair was agonising and suddenly she went from being quite positive to suffering very severely from claustrophobia – something remarkably out of character. The smiley person we knew was in such severe pain that she was in a horrific state of panic and utter misery. At that point the doctors recommended going into Thames Hospice. Hatti was positive that this was the right thing to do but we all felt terribly guilty for not being able to care for her at home.
Coming to Thames Hospice
“We arrived at Thames Hospice on Christmas Eve. I remember walking down the corridor into the open area and seeing the Hospice garden, and it was at that point we started to feel relief. The care and support we received was absolutely overwhelming. Hatti had been very agitated on arrival, but under the nurses’ expert care she slowly became herself again. Two days later she couldn’t remember anything about her distress, or in fact anything about Christmas Day at all, and we had to give her all her presents again!
“Over the next few weeks, nothing was too much trouble for the wonderful staff at the Hospice. Whether Hatti wanted a bath or to be out of bed, or that cup of tea, the nurses brought it to her. We were all cared for by the Hospice - it was like a home from home.
“My Mum, Dad, and Hatti’s boyfriend Rufus were all with Hatti at the Hospice over the Christmas period; somebody was by her side all of the time. We were even brought a Christmas dinner which, although it might seem a minor detail now, was incredible to receive when we were going through so much. Her friends could come to visit, and she decorated her room with photos and positive posters. The Hospice even had a florist who would take all of her bouquets (she had a lot of well-wishers) and would combine them into stunning displays. She loved flowers, so she thought this was wonderful.
“The Hospice’s new Sanctuary was a hugely important part of our time there and a really special place for Hatti. Just the fact she didn’t have to stay in her room was brilliant, but we also got to watch Hatti’s favourite movies on the big screen there. We even had our own private New Year’s Eve party which is a wonderful memory you can see in the picture above. Hatti had lost her hair from the treatments, so we all wore brightly coloured wigs, blew up balloons and had party poppers. The care assistants were giggling away with her as she put on her makeup and earrings.
“In early January, Hatti was getting progressively worse and in a lot of pain. We were told that she probably had only 48 hours to live. The next day we were given The Sanctuary again. Hatti was burning up she was so hot and, although it was the middle of winter, we had all the doors open to help her. I remember watching a funny programme and Hatti laughing, even though she couldn’t breathe very well. I’ll never forget that little laugh. That night she died with Mum, Dad, Rufus and I all there by her side.
“I wanted to tell our story because of the amazing care and support we received from Thames Hospice. It was such an awful time but the whole team at the Hospice was so wonderful and made such a huge difference; they cared for all of us and gave us a special time with Hatti that we might otherwise not have had.
“The charity is continuing to help us deal with our massive loss. We are receiving Thames Hospice counselling and we recently attended a really beautiful remembrance service in The Sanctuary. Hatti’s friends have also been involved in raising funds for the charity in the Santa Dash, The Sunflower Walk and the Windsor Half Marathon.
“I miss my sister’s smiles and laughter every day. I am so grateful that we were able to enjoy that extra time with her and I can’t imagine what we would have done without the Hospice.”