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Stuart's Story

As a dedicated cyclist who kept himself at the peak of fitness and an active Hospice supporter, volunteering at fundraising events, and in our Tenterden furniture charity shop, Stuart never expected that he would one day need our support.

Here he explains how the Hospice is helping him and his family to live with terminal illness and how being a patient has opened his eyes to the wide range of support on offer.

“I’ve had a very busy life, with a long and successful career, working mainly in engineering sales teams until I retired aged 65. Having always been busy, I didn’t want to sit still – I’m simply not used to sitting around, so volunteering in the Hospice’s furniture shops kept me busy. Twice a week, it gave me a routine that I missed from working life. I’ve always had several hobbies, and kept myself at peak fitness, having been into athletics, and heavily into cycling.

Stuart with his two bikes in the garden

My Hobby: Cycling

I’ve always had an interest in cycling, but I also ran several marathons! Cycling has been a passion entering road races, and also criterion races. I’d get out on my bike anytime that I could, but also would help other riders. I was the secretary of my local cycling club, and volunteered at cycling events, like Wheels Around the Weald, repairing punctures, and driving a support vehicle. I’ve always found that helping others helps me, as not only am I getting out and active, meeting new people, and being part of a team, I’m making a positive difference, and helping people to do the things I’ve enjoyed, too.

Cycling in Spain, I started to feel a backache, and when I saw a doctor, they delivered the hammer blow – it was cancer, and it had spread into my bones. I’d love to ride my bike again, but was told I shouldn’t, to avoid any further damage – instead, I help others to enjoy cycling. Coming from such a peak of fitness, to not being able to do the things I loved was such a drop, as not only did I not have as much to fill my time, I wasn’t able to do the things I enjoyed. However, I know that my level of fitness has helped my treatment, keeping me strong throughout.

When I was young, aged about 17 or 18, I was in a band with some friends, and I played guitar. I’ve always had a passion for music and have quite a varied music taste, liking anything from ACDC to The Shadows. Each week, I join the musical expression group at the Hospice, and I continued that on Zoom, which is great, as it means I’ve had something to do all throughout the pandemic; otherwise, I think it’s quite likely that I wouldn’t have had anything to do at home.

I’m lucky that my family all live fairly close to me. I live with my wife, Jackie, and my three sons and their families live near as well. Family time is incredibly important, and always has been – we don’t need to do anything in particular, just spending time with each other is special. Jackie and I like to listen to music together, and she’s into singing, which is part of the reason we’ve both joined the Hospice singing group on Zoom too, although I think I probably rumble along rather than sing a good note!

Stuart Liffen smiling at camera

Living Well

Both the musical expression group and the singing group are part of the Living Well Service at the Hospice and they give me an opportunity to have fun and make friends, but also to reach goals that I’ve set myself. I’m developing skills and giving myself a creative output – I’ve been ill for three years now, so just the interaction with others helps me to feel better. I’ve also joined in with the creative arts group on Zoom at the Hospice – I’m not the most creative person, and I don’t always stay on track, but I feel I’ve achieved something, and I’ve kept myself busy.

I join Living Well sessions on Zoom three times a week and these are a touchpoint with the Hospice – I get to enjoy myself, and work towards my goals, and they can check in on me. I don’t need masses of support at the moment, but they’re always there if I do need them, 24/7.

Stuart and Jackie at their Golden Wedding Party 2021

Looking after me, and my wife

The Hospice doesn’t just look after my health, but they look after the whole me, and my wife, helping me to live with my terminal illness, and make the most of the time I have to spend with Jackie, and my family. I didn’t realise that the Hospice would be so involved in my care, and that all the support I’d receive would be joined up. For example, I went for a hospital appointment at Maidstone Hospital, and a few days later my test results came in which the Hospice followed up. They received the results and phoned me to help me make sense of them, telling me what is good and they suggested how to improve other elements. They then asked when my next hospital appointment was and arranged to follow up. They’re there when I need them, and we know that we could phone any time of the day.

When I was volunteering in the furniture shop, I never even considered that I’d need the support of the Hospice, and I don’t think I realised all that they provide, either. Having volunteered, and helped out at events too, I’ve got such a strong connection with the Hospice. It only makes me more grateful for the support I receive.”