This is the story regarding one of our founder members Keith Anderson, or rather the story of his beloved partner and his carer Kay Saint.
Keith was very instumental in many aspects of our support group, and he did many things for many people that only a few people knew about. Keith had great fortitude, he would always attend our social get togethers at Probus, sometimes when he should have been at home in his bed.But that was Keith and often he would put others before himself, I worked on projects with Keith and not only do I miss him but I miss our lengthy telephone conversations.
This is the story of Keith's journey written by the hand of Kay Saint.
A Carers View
Keith's journey with bowel cancer in June 2011 when he took himself to the Emergency Department at Derriford with severe stomach pain. It quickly became clear that he had a blocked bowel and a surgeon was brought in to do an emergency operation. Keith had a Hartman's Procedure and came around from the operation with a colostomy.
He had been suffering with severe stomach pain for a few days prior to this and had been sick several times; he eventually decided he needed to see a doctor. The GP examined him and asked if he wanted to go straight to Derriford or try a bottle of medicine first to see if that would help. Keith chose the medicine and went home in the hope that the pain would go.
If I am honest, there were signs leading up to his emergency operation that all was not well. Keith frequently had to rush to the loo, sometimes suffered with constipation and often needed to lay down after a meal because he felt so uncomfortable. I tried to get him to go to the doctor, but he always brushed it off as a stomach upset. I have to say I was not surprised when he ended up in the Emergency Depatment.
Keith took the situation very well, accepted the stoma and never complained. Recovering from surgery was a new experience and chemotherapy was daunting, but we were determined to face everything together, we were a team.
I found it a huge responsibility when he started chemo and was concerned about him reacting badly to the treatment or picking up an infection. I tried my best not to worry or fuss but that is easier said than done.
It's very hard to watch a loved one suffering and I often felt useless, but Keith always said that just having me there was all that was needed.
We never called his stoma by name, as some people do, but it was created to save his life and it was a precious reminder that he would not have been here without it.
Keith had several operations over the years; a major one to clear a blockage and another for a hemi-colectomy to remove the part of his bowel that had been bypassed. This was done to improve his quality of life; a very risky operation, and we were warned that he could die on the operating table. I will never forget the 7 hours he was in surgery. I cleaned the house from top to bottom, bleached anything and everything in readiness for his homecoming, and waited for the phone to ring. Thankfully the news was good and Keith had pulled through.
Keith never really questioned his diagnosis or why treatment was needed. In the main he was quite happy to go along with whatever was recommended. I was the exact opposite and wanted to know everything. This used to drive Keith nuts and I had to make sure I didn't overstep the mark as it was his body and his disease, and I realised I had to respect his wishes.
Keith handled his chemotherapy with his usual humour and looked forward to seeing the nurses at the chemo unit. He would always try and take a treat for them and cakes and chocolate were often handed out as a thank you.
He was so grateful for the care and treatment he received and truly believed that each and every member of staff was important, from the cleaners to the head surgeons and oncologists.
There was a huge amount of support from the Oncology and Stoma nurses and Keith thought the world of them. This was so important when his initial treatment finished as suddenly he was responsible for his own health again, something we both found a tad frightening. And, as his health deteriorated, the support became more important and meant so much.
We both had our fair share of ill health and in 2014 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Keith was there for me throughout. He took me to my appointments with the surgeon and oncologist and cared for me after every course of treatment.
The last seven years were the happiest of our relationship; we realised how important we were to each other and our love pulled us through some very tough times. Life didn't stop it just changed and the simple things in life were more important to us. We still had holidays when our health was good and managed a trip to Scotland last year, a trip that Keith badly wanted to do. We had a wonderful week and thankfully his health held up.
Keith saw the good in everyone and made friends easily. He wanted to give something back and became involved with the Cornwall Bowel Cancer Support Group where he made some very special friends. He also saw the gap in care for prisoners with cancer and realised how important it was that there be some sort of support for all survivors, espeicially those who had no family or friends.
In August 2017, Keith was told that the cancer had come back and there was nothing more that could be done. He accepted his lot in his usual way, and decided he was going to plan his funeral to make things easier for me. We would make the most of the time we had left.
Keith spent the last three weeks of his life in St. Luke's Hospice, Plymouth. He was there for pain management and was expected to return home, but sadly developed pneumonia, which was one battle too many. He was so happy and content at St. Luke's and kept everyone up to date with his daily blogs. I am sure he felt safe and secure there and it seemed as though the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. It gave him time and space to contemplate life and to come to terms with his prognosis. I will never be able to thank St. Luke's enough for the care and support given to both Keith and I during his final days.
The Plymouth Bowel Cancer Support Group was set up in 2017 and the membership is growing. Keith would have been so pleased to know that the group is providing the support he envisaged.
As a close friend said, " Keith was too busy to die." He had several projects on the go which he would have dearly loved to have seen through to fruition.
There is definitely life after bowel cancer diagnosis and life is for living, something Keith did to the max.
I have written this in memory of my partner Keith Anderson.
" Those we love can never be more than a thought away.....for as long as there's memory, they live in our hearts to stay."