How Treetops helps patients like Carmen to have a laugh and enjoy life

October 13 2011
Carmen Varley was devastated when she was told she had cancer for the third time in her life but found comfort at the day care unit at Treetops Hospice, in Risley. To mark national Hospice Care Week, she shared her story with Caroline Jones.

WHEN Carmen Varley creates colourful jewellery, paintings or scarves at the craft table, she can put everything else behind her.

In fact, she enjoys it so much that, when it comes to lunchtime, she says she has to be dragged away from the table.

But the 45-year-old said that, before she started attending the day care unit at Treetops Hospice, she did not realise she had an artistic bone in her body.

It is a far cry from 19 months ago when she was first referred to the Risley hospice after being given the news she had cancer for the third time.

Carmen, of Derby, said: “I was devastated when I was told I had cancer again but I was determined to be positive, get on and make the most of things.

“I was a bit apprehensive on the first morning I went to the hospice, so much so that I sat there and cried, I was so scared.

“It was a daunting experience walking into a new place, particularly given the circumstances, but I soon realised how wonderful the place and the staff were.”

In July 1998, Carmen was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. Five years later, doctors told her the cancer was in remission but, in October 2003, she found another lump.

For the second time, she passed the five-year remission period but, in November 2009, she was told her breast cancer had come back in a secondary form.

This meant it had spread to her lungs and liver. She was also told it was terminal.

Since then, Carmen has created a “bucket list” of things she wants to do before she dies and has already been on the Orient Express, in a hot-air balloon and gone swimming with dolphins.

She said: “It started as a bucket list but then it got bigger, to about wheelie bin proportions. Now I call it a skip list, it’s become so big.

“I’m going to see my first opera next week – Carmen, appropriately – and I actually keep thinking to myself that I can’t go anywhere at the moment because I just have too much to do.”

But, in between ticking things off her list, Carmen finds herself at the hospice’s day care unit on Tuesdays and Fridays.

She said: “When I’m there, I find the crafting therapeutic, I can chill out and I feel a totally different person.

“Everyone is really nice and we all have a good laugh but everyone is also very supportive and we are all in the same boat. I just love coming here.”

Since it opened in Risley in 1990, Treetops Hospice has provided palliative care to people in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire who have suffered life-limiting conditions such as end-stage cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Guests come in once a week and can spend time with people suffering from the same condition, receive treatment and take part in therapy sessions.

The new £1.2 million day-care unit at Treetops was opened by the Duchess of Gloucester in November 2010. It has doubled the number of spaces available.

Treetops also runs a Hospice at Home service, providing end-of-life care for people in their ownhomes, and a bereavement support centre in Sandiacre.

This week, until tomorrow, Treetops and other charities across the country are trying to raise awareness of their work as part of national Hospice Care Week.

The annual campaign also aims to “address the misconceptions people may have about what hospice care is”.

Among those who also attend the day care unit at Treetops is Linda Furnival, of Harpur Avenue, Littleover.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 1998 and underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

But, almost 10 years later, Linda was told she had incurable secondary breast cancer, which had spread to her liver and lungs.

She had heard of the day care unit at Treetops and decided to refer herself. Linda now comes to the hospice every Tuesday.

She said: “I was shocked when I was given the news for the second time and it was devastating for my family.

“Coming to Treetops brightens the week up. The volunteers are so sweet and they all want to help us – nothing is too much trouble.

“And we’re all like the little Tuesday family. We laugh at each other, take the mickey and put the world to rights but there are no secrets.

“Everyone here is in the same boat. We all have life-limiting illnesses and we all share common ground.”

Michael Sedgwick, of Cobden Street, Long Eaton, also spends time at the day care unit on Tuesdays.

The 58-year-old was last year diagnosed with lung cancer, which has spread to his brain and kidneys. He was referred to Treetops about six months ago.

He said: “Coming here is very important to me because I can meet people who are the same as myself and I know that they understand. We help each other.

“It’s also nice to make crafts and scarves. I’ve even starting making some as presents for Christmas.

“It’s a really positive atmosphere here and, in fact, it’s impossible to be down when you’re here. Before, the cancer was getting on top of me.”

Peter Jones, the day care manager at Treetops, said: “Often the assumption is that a hospice is where people go to die but at Treetops it’s the absolute opposite.”

For more information about Treetops Hospice, visit

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