Farnham Nurse Nikki was 28 when she started suffering from severe abdominal pains she quickly realised that something was not right, but it was several months before, it revealed that there were signs of malignant cells in her cervix.
Tests showed Nikki had cervical cancer. After an intensive course of chemotherapy in conjunction with both internal & external radiotherapy, Nikki found out that she would be unable to have children.
It took Nikki over 12 months to regain her strength, but she and her husband Pete were determined to live life to the full. As Nikki’s mum Carol says: “the fact that Nikki couldn’t have children didn’t stop her and Pete considering adoption and looking forward.” They bought a holiday flat in Switzerland, visited Pete’s brother in Nepal, and eventually decided to re-locate from Hull to be nearer Nikki & Pete’s family in the south.
In 2010, the couple embarked upon a major project to transform Pete’s family’s crumbling Kent windmill into their dream home – all filmed as part of C4’s Restoration Man series. The family were excited– after endless hospital visits and consultant appointments, Nikki had been given the all clear and had plenty to look forward to. Her sister Shelly explains: “knowing that Nikki would be closer to both Mum and I was very exciting because we were all close as a family and we were looking forward to seeing more of each other.”
Months later, following a routine ‘flu jab’, Nikki started to feel unwell again - this time with head pains. By January 2011, Nikki had started to have problems with her eye, so Carol took Nikki to her own GP in Farnham for a second opinion. Following a scan at Frimley Park Hospital, Nikki was told that there was something pressing on her optical nerve – at which point alarm bells started to ring.
Nikki’s cancer had returned, not only behind her right eye, but also on her liver, lung and hip. In Carol’s words: ‘Your world falls apart. We couldn’t believe it.”
Devastated by this news, Nikki asked her consultant what the prognosis was. His response was “What do you think?” to which Nikki replied “I think its months…” “I think you could be right” was the reply.
It was around this time that the Hospice became involved. Following an assessment by Hospice Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Irene, Nikki received visits from the Hospice Welfare Officer, Complementary Therapists and Family Counsellors. Nikki’s pain became worse. And it seemed every time it was under control, something else would flare up.
Amber from the bereavement team also gave advice to Nikki’s pregnant sister Shelly on how to explain to her 3 ½ year-old son Zack what was happening. “I knew he was aware that there was something going on, because there were lots of people coming and going, other members of the family would care for him whilst I visited Nikki. It was a very sensitive situation, and Amber guided me in what and how much to tell him. I wouldn't have got through it without Amber, we were taught coping mechanisms, relaxation techniques and were provided with the support and reassurance when faced with a roller coaster of emotions knowing we were going to lose Nikki”.
Nikki’s mum Carol also received some complementary therapy. This was a very intense situation for the family, but the Hospice was there every step of the way. Shelly adds people need to know that the Hospice really is there for the families as well as the patient, Amber was amazing”.
Amber helped Nikki when she needed her most and made sure that she achieved the things that were important to her. It was a great comfort to the family that Nikki also had the opportunity to be continually looked after and had someone she could share her thoughts and feelings with.
Nikki lost her battle with Cancer on 14 August 2011 aged 33. The Hospice Bereavement Team continues to support close members of the family. Shelly mentions, “even months on we know we could pick up the phone and there would be someone ready and willing to help. We never dreamt we would need the services of the Hospice. Yet now we know first hand the incredible work Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice does in every aspect of patient & family care we will do everything possible to spread the word and to keep the services available for other families”.
Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice also supported the family’s goal of setting up Nikki’s Trust and provided an outlet to enable them to collect funds until the trust becomes independent. The aim of the Trust is to raise awareness of the HPV vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer, and give access to the vaccine for older girls. In addition to those who have already received a diagnosis the Trust will focus on ways to provide pain relief.
To make a donation to Nikki’s trust, please visit www.nikkistrust.co.uk