'Losing my daughter Carina at 42 was awful, but Marie Curie nurses made our last days together so special'
When Anne Matthews' daughter was dying from liver failure, Marie Curie staff were a great support. This month the Bangor mum will do a charity walk to thank them.
It's not even a year since Anne Matthews lost her vibrant, funny, strong-willed and independent only daughter Carina, aged just 42, and the heartbroken mum is finding a way to cope by giving something back.
Anne is one of 2,000 people expected to take part in this year's Walk Ten for Marie Curie.
"I could never, ever repay Marie Curie for what they did for Carina and I, but Walk Ten is something I can do and hopefully raise some money to support them," says Anne.
Anne lost Carina on October 2 last year when she passed away peacefully in hospital from an infection related to an underlying illness.
The mum and daughter had endured four tough years as Carina came through liver failure, undergoing lifesaving transplant surgery only to be cruelly knocked back again when her kidneys also started to fail.
It was an unthinkably hard time, when Carina did her best to shield the worst from her mum, but in the end she lost what was the bravest of battles.
Anne (62), who lives in Bangor with her partner Norman Loughins (70), works in tax support for Ernst and Young.
Today it is her hope that by sharing the very personal journey she and Carina faced, others will be encouraged to support Marie Curie's Walk Ten.
She says: "Carina had been diagnosed with liver disease four years ago and it wasn't really clear what caused it.
"She had not been feeling well for some time. She had lost weight, her feet and ankles were puffed up, and she was tired all the time.
"I kept on at her to go and see the doctor as I was quite worried about her.
"When she did finally go to the doctor, she sent her straight to hospital. And after a whole host of tests, it was discovered that she had liver failure and it was quite advanced. After that she just got more and more poorly until they put her on the transplant list."
It was around August 2009 when Carina was diagnosed. What followed was a tough year of constant hospital admissions, mostly due to a dangerous build-up of fluid caused by the disease.
It was 3am a year later when she got the call that a suitable liver had been donated and Carina and Anne left for King's College Hospital in London in the middle of the night.
Later that day Carina underwent a six hour transplant operation which surgeons later said went perfectly. After 10 days she returned home to Northern Ireland.
Anne says: "We did feel we had turned a corner and all would be well. It was like a new start and we felt the worst was behind her.
"She had been staying with us and was soon able to go back to her own home. She got some normality back in her life."
Carina, who worked in marketing for City and Guilds, enjoyed what her mum described as "three good years" before illness struck again.
During that time she became an active member of the Royal Victoria Hospital's Liver Transplant Support Group.
However, tests revealed that her kidneys had started to fail and she had to go on dialysis.
Anne says: "She just took it in her stride.
"She had the attitude 'If this is what it takes to get me better, then so be it, I will do it'."
But her health continued to get worse and because she was so close to her mum, Carina decided not to tell her how bad things were in the belief that she was sparing her some anguish.
Anne says: "She and I were very close; she was my mate as well as my daughter. She kept things from me because she thought she was protecting me.
"She went to spend time with friends in England at Christmas and I got a call on Boxing Day from them to say she was very ill and they were concerned about her. We arranged for her to fly home the next day.
"She could barely walk out of the concourse in the airport and we brought her to hospital. It was obvious she was very poorly."
Carina spent several weeks in hospital and came home in early February. She was so weak her mum had to turn her downstairs dining room into a bedroom for her as she couldn't climb the stairs.
Frightened to go to bed in case Carina needed her, Anne spent sleepless nights on the sofa in her living room.
It was at that point that Marie Curie stepped in.
Anne recalls: "I wasn't sleeping and I was sleep deprived. Marie Curie nurses came at night and they were an absolute godsend. It meant I could go to bed and sleep knowing that Carina was safe and secure, being looked after by professionals.
"We had different nurses come and every single one of those girls was lovely. It kept me going and it also meant that we could go back to having a mother-daughter relationship, which I had missed.
"When you are caring for someone full-time, you go into carer mode.
"I was able to talk to Carina again as a mum rather than always discussing how she was, and that was very important."
In what her mum said was "like a miracle", Carina suddenly started to pick up again last summer. She got her appetite back, put on some weight, had more energy and no longer needed the services of the Marie Curie nurses.
She enjoyed two months of relative normality.
However, in September her health began to fail once more and she went downhill quite fast.
She died in hospital the next month with her mum by her side.
Anne says: "Carina had so many friends and I get comfort from that. She was a great networker and made friends with everybody.
"She was affectionate, warm, kind-hearted and funny as well.
"One of the hurdles she had to face when trying to attain her target weight for transplant was that she had to be tube fed overnight – this involved hooking her up to a pump which pumped high energy liquid feed via an NG tube up her nose and down into her stomach.
"She disliked this process intensely and was very conscious of how she looked with the tube in all the time but it had the desired effect – stoic is another word that fits my girl.
"She and I both loved Snow Patrol and we would be driving along in her car with it blaring – it was a like a mobile disco.
"It's very tough. I had to sell her wee home at the end of June and that was very difficult.
"She made things easy for me because she had left everything in order in a ring binder and she had made her wishes about her funeral known.
"I read a quote recently about loss where someone said they feel like they have a fracture in their soul that will never heal and that's how I feel. My company and colleagues have been very supportive.
"The charity committee at work asked me what charity had supported us most. When I told them Marie Curie, they decided to adopt Marie Curie as the company charity for the year, which I was thrilled about.
"A group of 10 of us are doing Walk Ten and some of my family and friends will also be joining us."
Anne also lost her brother Jim Gould to lung cancer in 2005. He was 67 and was nursed in the Marie Curie Hospice.
She explains: "Marie Curie has been incredibly good to me in so many ways.
"People tend to stay away from the hospice, but it is a fantastic place, it's not all doom and gloom. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming – I know this sounds strange, but it is a place that is full of hope."
Anne adds: "I just hope that people will get behind the charity and support Walk Ten. At the end everyone has a picnic and there is music so it is a bit of craic too, as well as being so worthwhile."
How your money helps ...
- Marie Curie Walk Ten is being held in Stormont estate on Saturday, August 30 and the Ulster-American Folk Park, Omagh, on Saturday, September 6
- Funds raised are needed to provide vital palliative care to those with a terminal illness, both in the community and in its Belfast hospice on the Knock Road
- Just £20 pays for an hour of nursing time and £180 will cover a full nursing shift
- Walk Ten is now in its fifth year and each event covers a 10km route
- The events are very much family affairs – with people encouraged to bring a picnic to enjoy with the entertainment (live music from U105 and fireworks) at 10pm
- 10pm is significant as that signifies the time when Marie Curie nurses will begin a nightshift at the home of a terminally ill person
- Last year the event raised more than £140,000 – a target the charity hopes to exceed this year
- For details on registration fees and how to enter, visit www.marie- curie.org.uk, tel: 0800 716 146