Intimacy and Hospice Care Awareness Week at the hospice

We are excited to have our first Intimacy and Hospice Care Awareness Week here at St Wilfrid’s Hospice.

The idea came about from a conversation I had with a patient a few years ago that surprised me. I’ll call her Jane, although that wasn’t her real name. Jane told me she had never spoken, or felt she had been able to speak, to any healthcare professional about how she was feeling with regards to her relationship with her husband.

She had undergone quite a lot of treatment during her illness, and she told me that when she looked in the mirror she hardly recognised herself. She’d lost her hair, and her physical appearance had changed. She worried that her husband’s feelings had changed towards her – almost as if he was too worried to touch her. She missed her cuddles with him. We talked openly about how important it was that she still felt like his wife and that they had been together for over 30 years.

Jane was glamorous and I suggested that she organise a date night; put on a dress that she liked and wear the sparkly high heeled shoes that she kept for special occasions. She didn’t feel she could go out for dinner, but a takeaway – dressed up – with candles was something she could do. It reminded both of them that they were more than the couple living with cancer.

This is a story we see repeated amongst the people we support at St Wilfrid’s. So, we’ve decided to do something about it. Hospice care is about looking after all aspects of a person’s wellbeing – this includes sex and intimacy. We want to open up the conversation so that people like Jane can continue to enjoy their relationships and be close with the people who matter most in their lives.

As a hospice team we are working on ways to introduce conversations about intimacy with the people we support. We want to encourage patients talk to us about their concerns. We realise it may feel uncomfortable for some people, but we want to assure them that they won’t be the first one to have the conversation with us.

We are also planning to purchase a cuddle bed for our Inpatient Unit. These beds are larger adjustable medical beds that can fit two or more people on them. They will allow partners to lie down next each other and kids to snuggle up with their parent. Simple intimacies that can make all the difference to people at the end of their life.

To help open up the conversation about intimacy and hospice care we are holding an awareness week from 12th to 16th February. There will be information and advice available all week in The Street Café in the hospice on Broadwater Way, Eastbourne so please pop in and find out more.

Remember intimacy comes in lots of different ways; sharing a bed, holding a hand, a date night. It is an important part of being human and does not need to stop when a person becomes ill, if they don’t want it to.

Useful resources:

For those living with a life-limiting illness: https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/help/support/terminal-illness/wellbeing/sexuality

For clinicians: https://www.capc.org/blog/how-to-address-sexuality-and-intimacy-with-people-living-with-a-serious-illness/

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