‘Don’t let others die in pain like my mum’

Linda McCaffrey
Linda McCaffrey
  • Linda McCaffrey, 53, died from cancer last month
  • She was unable to eat food and survived on ice cubes and energy drinks
  • She wanted to go to Dignitas in Switzerland but was too frail to
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LINDA McCaffrey’s daughter watched her mother ‘waste away on the sofa’ after terminal cancer left her unable to eat any food.

Linda was 53 when she passed away last month, weighing only five stone.

Carley McCaffrey and her daughter Lauryn 'Picture: Allan Hutchings (151753-055)

Carley McCaffrey and her daughter Lauryn 'Picture: Allan Hutchings (151753-055)

A diagnosis of late stage ovarian cancer and bowel cancer meant the mum-of-three was unable to keep down food and was instead relying on ice cubes and powder-based energy drinks to survive.

Carley McCaffrey, 35, who became her mum’s full-time carer, is now calling on health secretary Jeremy Hunt to look at changing the law on assisted dying, as it was an option Linda had wanted.

She said: ‘What my mum went through was just barbaric – I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through that.

‘Once she knew there was nothing more than could be done to help, she wanted to go to Switzerland to Dignitas and not suffer the pain she went on to have.

To be told you can’t have food anymore, but only ice cubes, surely that’s torture?

Carley McCaffrey, daughter

‘To be told you can’t have food any more, only ice cubes, surely that’s torture?

‘I watched my mum waste away on the sofa at home as she couldn’t eat and had no energy.

‘My mum isn’t the only one who has suffered like this and that’s why I am writing to Jeremy Hunt.’

Linda, a former solderer and home-maker, was diagnosed with cancer in April 2014.

She was treated with radiotherapy and chemotherapy at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham for about 18 months.

However the tumours kept on growing back and it was decided that Linda would be handed over to the palliative care team.

Carley, of Hampshire Street, Fratton, cared for Linda at her home in Stirling Street, Fratton.

She then called on The Rowans Hospice at Purbrook for help in the last 10 days of her mum’s life.

Yesterday the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said end-of-life care should be tailored to a person’s needs.

It added that it should not be a ‘tick-box’ exercise that had previously been followed by hospitals.

In September this year MPs voted against terminally ill patients that had less than six months left to live being given the right to decide to have a lethal injection.

Dr Jon Price is the end-of-life care lead for the Portsmouth Clinical Commissioning Group, which pays for health services in the area.

He said: ‘In this case it was such a tragedy to see someone you love waste away like this.

‘I’m encouraged by the news that Nice is recommending end-of-life care to be done in a more personalised way.

‘It’s important skilled communications take place between medical staff and families, because if that breaks down then it makes it so much worse.’

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt was a commissioner for the Commission on Assisted Dying.

She said: ‘I did recommend then that assisted dying should be considered.

‘We voted on it not long ago and the law was not changed.

‘But we are talking about end-of-life care more than ever now.’

Carley’s letter to Jeremy Hunt

‘I must make you aware, as you are the health minister, of the horror my mum and family had to face due to QA Hospital’s procedures and the law.

I am writing to you in the “hope” you could change a few things to make it easier for a cancer patient faced with a terminal diagnosis as it affects so many of the population these days.

In April 2014, my mum, Linda McCaffrey, was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer and secondary cancer to the bowel, due to the doctors’ misdiagnosis for more than a year.

My mum’s abdomen was distended so much she looked nine months’ pregnant. My mum suffered in the most barbaric way, crunching ice cubes to stay alive and ultimately starving to death on the sofa in six months. How can this be in 2015?

Oncology at QA did try many chemotherapy and radiology attempts but, as it was diagnosed too late, the tumours had started growing rapidly again, obstructing my mum’s digestive system.

Can you imagine yourself, Jeremy, being told you cannot eat food any more? That you have to stay on liquid food, Complan (powdered milk energy drink) and water? Eventually, my mum could no longer digest Complan or water and, with her trust and faith gone in any medical help due to too many errors at such a crucial time in her life, she starved, on morphine, in front of her loved ones, at 53 years old.

Knowing what was in store for herself, my mum wanted to travel to Switzerland to Dignitas to be put to sleep peacefully before the suffering started.

Sadly, she was too weak to travel. This means she had no choice but to succumb to an extremely painful, upsetting and barbaric death.

If this was your mother, wife, daughter or sister, I ask, what would you do? To see someone I love go through this has destroyed me and my children.

My faith in doctors, authorities and “the system” has left me. I now feel I have set my precious children up for a fall.

The doctors and system failed my mum in the most cruel way, as they do many people. So I have taken the time to ask you, please can you change this from happening again to a patient that is caught late with any cancer.’