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My painting and talking joy: Clare's story

Clare Gilpin with art

Clare, a retired HR consultant who has secondary breast cancer, tells how she looks forward to her weekly Living Well sessions. She explains how painting and good conversation have brought her joy and contentment throughout her illness.

I grew up in North London and moved to East Sussex when I got married. My husband and I had two children, Daniel and Louisa, who are now grown up and have children of their own. After a career in HR consultancy, I worked as a hospice bereavement counsellor and it was during this time that I found out I had breast cancer. That was seventeen years ago and thankfully the cancer was successfully treated at the time. I later worked as a charity receptionist until five years ago, when I found out the cancer had returned. My life completely changed. As I lived alone, since the death of my husband, I decided to relocate to Tunbridge Wells to be closer to Daniel, Louisa and their families.

Clare painting in Living Well

As I needed greater daily support, I decided to move into a nursing home. Being quite knowledgeable about hospices, I looked up Hospice in the Weald and found out about Living Well and all the activities it has to offer. I now attend the Living Well sessions regularly and they really have become the highlight of my week.

The Hospice supports me in practical ways too. For example, I increasingly struggle with my mobility and the Hospice helped me explore all the resources that were available. I also suffer with a very painful arthritic knee and have benefited from some physiotherapy sessions with the Hospice physiotherapist Sarah.

It’s the weekly Living Well sessions that I love though. I enjoy the relaxation and the painting and all the chat in between.

The Hospice gardens are truly beautiful and I love being outside and enjoying the different plants and flowers. It’s a busy day and when I go home I find myself needing a good nap. But I always look forward to the next Tuesday and don’t want my sessions here to come to an end.

Clare Gilpin painting

Each Tuesday starts with coffee and a relaxation class, followed by a pre-lunch reiki massage. We then spend an enjoyable afternoon painting with watercolours. There’s usually live music playing, which just adds to the lovely atmosphere. I’m currently painting an elephant and it’s the second one I’ve painted. The first I gave to my daughter, but my daughter-in-law also wanted one so I’m working on another. I enjoy painting animals, so it’s all OK!

I’ve made some good friends through my participation in these weekly sessions. I particularly enjoy being with the eclectic mix of people who gather each week. The Hospice welcomes people from all walks of life and of all ages. We’re all such different individuals! The wide range of people only adds to the fun and diversity of these Living Well sessions. To come to the Hospice each week truly is a blessing, and being there is like a breath of fresh air.

In a way I was fortunate to have an understanding of hospices and the services they provide. It’s a pity that people with life-limiting diseases don’t always know what’s available.

I was lucky to know what was on offer and I wanted to take advantage of it, but it’s important more people are made aware of excellent services such as Living Well that are open to them.