On Monday 20 July, Peter Pearce launched the Dream Home Prize Draw, offering people the chance to win ‘Painter’s Keep’ – his four-bedroom home in West Sussex worth over £1m. He also announced that 10% of all proceeds would be donated to his local hospices, St Barnabas House and Chestnut Tree House after the draw closes on 1 November.
The choice of charity was a personal one, as 12 years ago Peter’s father was cared for by St Barnabas House during the last few days of his life. His message is simple:
“We are all privileged to have hospices in our local communities. Please support them as you never know when you, or your family or friends, may need their care and support.”
Born in 1939, Peter’s father, also named Peter Pearce, moved from London to Worthing in the 1950s.
“I grew up hearing about his early memories of sheltering in underground stations with my grandmother and learned he could never bear the sound of an air raid siren. When my grandparents moved to Worthing, they ran a small business; and after doing his National Service, my dad worked for the Gas Board. He married my mum, and my sister Karon and I grew up in a loving family. I have some great old photos of us on Worthing beach, which always bring back fond memories of my childhood.”
Peter recalls when he first found out his dad was ill and how quickly their lives changed, he said:
“I vividly remember a day out with my dad. We had driven to Newhaven and in the middle of a normal conversation, he became sad and reflective and asked me if I thought people would miss him if he died. My first reaction was to laugh. We had a relationship where nothing was taken too seriously but after a few seconds, I asked him if he was ill. He said that he wasn’t, and I thought no more about it. He looked well.
“But a few weeks later my mum asked if I had noticed anything about dad’s eating habits. I hadn’t, but the next time I saw him, I thought he had lost a little weight. Then things started to change very quickly. I remember receiving a phone call from my sister to say that dad was ill and that he wouldn’t see a doctor. I was shocked by his deterioration when I saw him and managed to persuade him to see his GP. Within days he was sent for a consultation at Worthing Hospital and diagnosed with a tumour in his throat – Oesophageal Cancer.
“We were told it was inoperable and that he only had months to live. Anyone that has experienced this will know the words hit you like hammer blows. We found out that he had been having problems swallowing for a year but hadn’t told anyone. None of us understood why. The range of emotions from rage to despair was overwhelming.”
A course of chemotherapy followed, as well as the fitting of a food tube and blood transfusions. The family were supported by the NHS and a Macmillan nurse, who finally told him that he had days to live.
“Dad had expressed a wish to pass away at home. We wanted to respect his wishes, but as his care needs increased, it became more difficult for us to care for him. At 2am one night he fell on my mum and she was trapped under him. I went to help, but then two hours later it happened again. I can still remember his weight in my arms. We all loved my father dearly, but we’re not nurses or carers and we just hadn’t realised how difficult it would be.”
Peter’s sister, Karon, contacted St Barnabas House and it was arranged that their dad would go to the hospice for the last few days of his life.
Explaining what a relief this was, Peter concluded:
“St Barnabas removed an impossible responsibility from our shoulders. Knowing that wonderful people were taking care of dad’s needs, meant that we could just love him and be with him in his final days and hours.
“If you haven’t visited a hospice like St Barnabas, you cannot possibly imagine how much they do for their patients. This is 24-hour care on a huge scale. The team there are simply amazing. Everything is geared towards supporting the patient and their family through the most difficult of times. Not only physical care but spiritual support too – whatever you need.
“Dad was in St Barnabas for five days. In those last days of his life, he had moments of lucidity, no pain, and was able to see some old friends and relatives who wanted to reminisce and say goodbye. On the morning he passed, my mother, sister and I were with him.
“We all had a wonderful relationship with my dad, and even at the end of his life, we had a moment of humour. Dad was both careful with money and adamant that he didn’t want to go into a hospice. When we knew the time had come, we told him he was going into a convalescent home rather than a hospice. He woke up at St Barnabas and slowly looked around his room before saying to my sister ‘how much is this costing me?’
“We laughed together, but the reality is that it costs a lot to run St Barnabas House. Patients and their families are never charged for their care, but very little funding comes from central government, so the hospice relies heavily on the generosity and support of the local community, through donations and fundraising. This is why I chose to support St Barnabas House, as well as the children’s hospice, Chestnut Tree House and named them as the charity beneficiary for the Dream Home Prize Draw.
“What hospices do, and the ways they support people like my dad and our family, is incredible, and I think we are very lucky to have them in our local community. We need to keep supporting them so that they can continue to be there for us, and our loved ones, now and in the future.”