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Why these much-loved Northern Ireland nurses won't be forgotten


Loving family: Patsy Stanfield with her daughters Katy-Ann and Dawn in France
Loving family: Patsy Stanfield with her daughters Katy-Ann and Dawn in France
Precious memory: Lisa McMullan with a picture of her late sister, Joanne McCawley
Patsy Stanfield
Patsy with her husband Phillip
Joanne McCawley

When two popular staff members of Kingsbridge Private Hospital in south Belfast, Patsy Stanfield and Joanne McCawley, passed away from cancer, their colleagues organised the Forget Me Not ball in their memory and raised £22,689.81 which they divided between Leukaemia and Lymphoma NI and Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund. Lisa Smyth hears the families’ heartbreaking stories.

'Mum was our best friend, she was also a great wife and auntie, she was a force of nature'

Patsy Stanfield

Senior recovery nurse Patsy Stanfield lived in Newtownards, Co Down, and was married to Phillip (65) with two daughters, Dawn (38) and Katy-Ann (35). Patsy was 64 when she died from pancreatic cancer in April 2017. Dawn, who lives in Bangor, says:

Mum had started to feel a little bit unwell around Christmas in 2016, it felt a bit like a hangover even though she didn't drink.

She went to the doctor in January and they said it might pancreatitis or a bad infection, but by March she was diagnosed with stage four/five pancreatic cancer.

I had hurt myself at work and was actually in the hospital at the time. I knew she was going to the doctor that day and she came straight to the hospital afterwards to speak to me.

I knew from her face the moment she walked into the ward.

She basically sat down and told me she would fight as hard as she could and for as long as she could fight.

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Dad took mum home and Katy-Ann and I sat together on my bed and had some reality checks. We discussed what we were possibly facing and we agreed that whatever happened we would be okay as long as we stuck together and faced it as a family.

I knew about pancreatic cancer as my grandfather had it but I started to look into it a bit more because I'm the type of person who needs to know facts and figures. I realised just how little time there can be for people diagnosed at mum's stage.

She was diagnosed on March 1, 2017, and she was gone on April 16, 2017.

Patsy with her husband Phillip

Her tumour was very large and it was wrapped around an artery which meant that she couldn't have an operation and she also had five tumours the size of golf balls growing inside her liver.

They were causing pressure on her liver which was the reason why she was feeling sick.

She didn't really have any more symptoms, she wasn't in any pain at that stage. She was just a bit lethargic, but she had a very rapid decline from diagnosis, it was almost like hearing the word cancer made her body go into shut down and she started to struggle a lot quite quickly.

I was staying with mum and dad at the time and I would hear her up at night, pacing. She couldn't sleep because she couldn't lie down because the pain had started.

She had a ridiculously high pain threshold, but you would hear her crying.

I remember getting home from work late one night and finding her pacing and crying with the pain. I can't describe how horrific it is to see someone you love in that state.

I got Katy-Ann up and we helped mum into the bathroom and got her into the bath, we were just trying anything we could to try and ease the pain.

It was heartbreaking, when she lay on her back you could actually see the tumour.

She was on morphine by this stage but it just wasn't touching the sides.

After mum was diagnosed, I sat everyone down around the kitchen table and we had one of the most difficult conversations about what she wanted. It's a horrible conversation and dad was a bit unhappy but I knew that if we didn't do it then we would get lost in what was happening and not know what mum wanted at the end.

I'm so glad that we did it because the end result was that we were able to take care of mum when she had no voice and her funeral was exactly what she wanted.

It got to the stage where mum was in so much pain and I asked her where she was on a scale of one to 10 and she said 10.

My sister and I took her to the Mater Hospital and we explained that her pain management regime wasn't working.

They admitted her into the surgical ward and that's where she stayed for the next three weeks.

Her surgeons were amazing, they came to us on the first day and told us they were doing palliative care. They said that at that point they weren't trying to save mum, they were trying to give her the best quality of life for as long as possible.

They originally said they would let mum have chemotherapy if she was strong enough but then the doctor came in and said he had to be honest with us, he said he was happy to send mum down but that they would just send her back as it would kill her.

He also asked mum what she wanted to happen if her heart stopped, and that's when we realised we weren't playing with weeks, we only had days.

Katy-Ann and I would spend the night with her and dad would be with her during the day. By that stage mum didn't want anyone to see her so we would keep family updated on what was happening.

It got to April 15 and I said to dad that I didn't think mum was going to make it through the night.

She wasn't talking by this stage because she was so drugged up and could barely open her eyes.

The three of us spent every moment of that last 24 hours with her, talking to her, holding her hand, telling her we loved her. We wanted to make sure we thanked her because she was one of a kind.

She was our best friend, she was the best mum, a great wife and auntie, she was just a force of nature.

It was the first time since she had arrived in hospital that she was able to lie back because the tumour wasn't bothering her as much.

We were all gathered round the bed when the GP popped her head round the door to see how we were getting on and as we were chatting mum took her last breath.

I'm relieved we were there holding her hands, she wasn't alone.

Mum had said a few things to us before she passed away, one of them was 'don't you dare wallow in this, keep living'.

She kept saying that we had to find a way of living with this, she said 'don't let it eat you up, live, live'.

There isn't a day goes by that we don't think about her, my dad has been completely heartbroken and he has struggled because she was the love of his life.

They were best friends, he was her sidekick and she would tell him off, and it broke him a little bit when she left.

She was an incredible woman and it is hard, although we talk about her all the time and we are able to think about the happy memories more now.

Katy-Ann and I had asked mum if she was scared of dying and she had said she wasn't because she would get to see our little sister, Lulu, who passed away many years ago.

She was just sad that she had to leave us and all the people she loved in this life. She had a really beautiful, quiet faith that meant peace for her in the end.

We were delighted when we found out mum's colleagues at Kingsbridge were organising the fundraising ball because it just proved how much they thought of her and shows why mum loved working there so much.

You hear so much about other cancers, like breast and testicular, and there are a lot more charities working in a common direction for those cancers, which is why we're so pleased they were able to raise so much money for Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund.

We were blown away on the night itself, it was breathtaking and amazing to think what they have done to help other people affected by pancreatic cancer."

'Joanne was pregnant, so she wanted to fight the leukaemia a bit harder'

Joanne McCawley

Senior ward nurse Joanne McCawley, from Drumaness, Co Down, was married to Jason and was just 32 years old when she died from acute myeloid leukaemia in December 2017. Joanne's sister, Lisa McMullan (36), from outside Saintfield, says:

Joanne found out she had leukaemia after going for her first antenatal check. They did routine blood tests that showed up a problem.

I think with Joanne being a nurse, she had an idea that it was more than just anaemia, but she had to wait to find out what was wrong.

A few days later, she got a phone call telling her she had to go to Belfast City Hospital immediately.

They told her she had leukaemia but that there was a 70% chance of survival, although it was still devastating - it was just horrific.

They said she needed to have chemotherapy, but they seemed to be quite positive that the baby would be okay and would make it through the chemotherapy.

I do think that with Joanne being pregnant, it made her want to fight that little bit harder.

She was so positive through all of it, no matter how difficult it was. She was amazing and just got on with it, but then she got some awful news.

She went for a scan to check the baby, but they weren't able to find a heartbeat.

I think Joanne had a feeling he was gone, but she was holding onto the fact that he was still there.

She was 16 weeks' pregnant at that stage, so she was given medication to start the labour. It was devastating, absolutely devastating.

She had a little boy called Joseph, but she didn't see him. I think it was just too much for her with everything else that was going on.

I think she knew she had such a big fight ahead of her that she needed to concentrate on that.

She went through two more courses of chemotherapy, but she found out that it wasn't working. The doctors wanted to start an even more aggressive chemotherapy.

That was so tough. She'd lost Joseph and then found out the treatment hadn't worked.

She started asking what the point was.

Nothing was going her way. She'd been in hospital for the guts of six weeks and it was Christmas.

It was really hard going. I don't know how she stayed so strong.

She'd been married for a year and a half and she'd been pregnant. This wasn't how things were supposed to turn out, but she always said there were people worse off than her.

We knew that Joanne would need a stem cell transplant, so our brother, Paul, and I were tested to see if we could be donors.

Unfortunately, neither of us was suitable, but eventually a match was found and she went through her transplant.

It was like things were finally starting to get better - Joanne went into remission and was starting to move on with her life.

Joanne was my daughter Orlaith's godmother and they had such a close wee bond.

Orlaith started playschool and Joanne was able to go and pick her up.

We were able to make some really special memories. We talked about Joseph all the time too.

I'd had a wee boy, Sean, who was born just after Joanne had her transplant and she was one of the first people to hold him.

The pair of us just cried because we knew that Sean and Joseph would have been so close - they would have been best friends.

She was also looking forward to going back to work, but then we got the news that the cancer was back.

Our mum and dad were both turning 60 at the same time and we wanted to do something special for them, so we organised to send them on a Mediterranean cruise.

Joanne wasn't feeling very well, but she didn't tell anyone except Jason, and after he left to drive our mum and dad to the airport, she went down to the Royal.

I got the phone call to say Joanne wasn't well again and I remember screaming down the phone because I knew it was likely there was nothing they could do.

Mum and dad came straight home - it was really traumatic for them.

Joanne didn't want to know a timescale.

Instead, she became even more determined to raise awareness of leukaemia and she did a lot or work for Leukaemia and Lymphoma NI.

She even agreed to take part in a publicity campaign, even though it was too late for her - that was just Joanne, she just wanted to help other people.

You know, Joanne only lived 32 years, but she managed to achieve more in that time than I will in my whole life. She was such an inspiration.

She was told it was terminal on September 24 and she survived until December 4.

She went into organisational mode. She needed to know everything was sorted.

I was quite surprised because I expected her to go downhill a lot more rapidly than she did, but she was in really good spirits. A lot of people came to visit her and we had Christmas dinner early because she wanted to taste mummy's stuffing.

It got to the stage where she was on oxygen constantly and her lungs started to fill up with fluid, but it was how she wanted it at the end - she was in the dining room and had said she wanted the doors open so she could go straight to Joseph.

Joanne was so strong through everything and was so determined to help others, so that no other families would have to go through what we went through.

We just want to honour that. We want to keep up her work, so it was wonderful that Kingsbridge held the fundraising event.

We could feel her there on the night.

We have to try and stay positive and turn our grief into something positive.

I'm gutted she isn't here with us anymore - she was so very young when she died - but I was so lucky that she was my sister and that I had all those years with her.

We had a love that some people don't experience in their lives and she will never be forgotten."

Belfast Telegraph


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