Carol’s Story

“What Mum really wanted was to be comfortable at home. She loved being in her own space. Seemingly little things like being able to see her garden meant so much to her.”

Carol’s Story

Throughout her life, to her loving family and many friends, Carol Thirkettle was one of the calmest, most peaceful people you could ever hope to meet. Fit, healthy, active and hugely involved in her local village community, when she was told that the cough she couldn’t shake was actually a rare and aggressive form of thyroid cancer, it left everyone around her completely devastated. Within just a few days Carol and her loved ones had to process the terrible news that she was now receiving end-of-life care. 

All Carol wanted was to be able to be cared for at home, surrounded by those closest to her in the house where she and her husband Graham had lived for more than four decades, raised their children Amy and Martin and created cherished memories with their four beloved grandchildren. At this most challenging of times Rennie Grove Peace were able to make this possible, providing personalised holistic care for Carol, much-needed practical and emotional support for the whole family and peace of mind for everyone. 

Throughout Carol’s life her family was always her main priority. Born in Jamaica, she sadly lost her own father at a young age, before moving to live in New Jersey in the US. Later she studied for her nursing qualifications in Edinburgh. It was whilst working at the children’s burns unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital that she met her husband, Graham. 

In September 2022 during a holiday to Jersey, Carol developed a cough. She made an appointment to see her GP once home, but couldn’t seem to get over the illness. She was referred to a thyroid specialist in February 2023 and a routine biopsy was taken. Shockingly she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of thyroid cancer, at just 71.  

“Mum was really healthy right up until her diagnosis,” Martin says. “We couldn’t believe it. We’d just been making plans for when Dad and she would next see the grandchildren.”

“Mum was such a calm, loving person,” Martin explains. “She was always supportive of us and proud of everything we did.”

Even now when she was facing this awful news she was just amazing – strong, accepting, and that really helped all of us. She kept saying: ‘We need to take this one day at a time.’ And we all took our lead from her.” 

The news was broken to the family in hospital after Carol was taken to A&E at Stoke Mandeville with breathing difficulties. She was then blue lighted to John Radcliffe Hospital for emergency bronchoscopy surgery as the tumour on her thyroid was found to have encroached on the windpipe. Surgeons removed as much as they could, but very sadly Carol and her loved ones were told that her cancer was stage 4 and could only be managed, not cured.  

“Mum spent three weeks in Oxford having radiotherapy as an inpatient,” Martin says. “She was moved to the palliative care ward which was hard to cope with. Within the space of a few days we’d gone from her having something checked out to being told nothing could be done.  

“What Mum really wanted was to be comfortable at home. She loved being in her own space. Seemingly little things like being able to see her garden meant so much to her.” 

It was then that Rennie Grove Peace stepped in to support Carol and her family with the transition to her being cared for at home.  

“Mum’s case was supposedly complicated because she lived in Buckinghamshire, her cancer specialist was in Oxford and her GP surgery was in Herts – but from the start the charity made everything easy,” Martin explains.  

Graham adds: “The Rennie Grove Peace nurses were so kind and professional. A nurse named Jenny and her colleagues in the Hospice at Home team were amazing. They came out to visit us at home and put a personalised care plan in place for Carol. They talked to us at length about what we wanted. 

“It made a huge difference to me that the hospice at home nurses were involved with Carol’s care. You learn how to be a carer as well as a husband but it’s really hard. I had some really low times and they were always there to support me.” 

“I remember once one of the nurses phoned me and said: ‘This call is about you Graham. You look very tired and you need to sleep.’ They arranged support for Carol at home overnight so I could get a night’s rest. They anticipated needs I didn’t know I had.” 

“Rennie Grove Peace has a phone number that can be called 24 hours per day and that was a real help” Graham explains. “The nurses would always be honest with me and would call back to answer any questions I had about medication dosages or Carol’s symptoms. They never let me down. They were always there. 

“The overnight nursing team were also amazing and often came out to visit us at 6 or 7am before they finished their shift.” 

Martin adds: “The helpline enabled Dad and the wider family to access the experience and knowledge of Rennie Grove Peace nurses and it gave us the reassurance that we were doing the best for Mum. That made the difference really with enabling Mum to stay at home. It was so valuable.” 

Whilst Carol was being cared for at home her older sister Jennifer was able to travel from Canada for a visit. And the whole family enjoyed the opportunity to spend quality time with Carol. 

“For Amy and I it was just so nice to see Mum in the home where we’d grown up.” Martin says. “The grandchildren were able to spend time with her at home as well, whilst she was relaxed and happy in her own surroundings. It was as she wanted it. 

“In the last couple of weeks of Mum’s life we spoke to the Hospice at Home nurses a lot and they came out regularly to visit. They gave us tips on things like how to move Mum around which were incredibly helpful and also helped to provide some clinical equipment for her.” 

Carol was readmitted to Stoke Mandeville Hospital on the 5th June, 2023, with breathing difficulties. She’d been due to begin a course of radioactive iodine therapy that same day but sadly wasn’t well enough. 

“We’d been chatting late into the night the evening before,” Graham recalls. “She’d asked for tea and strawberry jam on toast. Then early the next morning everything changed. 

“At hospital we were told the cancer had spread to Carol’s lungs and the decision was made to stop active treatment. She passed away peacefully three days later, with me, Amy and Martin at her bedside. I was reading her a Jamaican folk story. 

“Carol’s funeral was held at St Michael’s Church in Aston Clinton on 13 July and donations given went directly to Rennie Grove Peace. 

“I kept speaking with the nurses after we lost Carol. They’d made caring at home for her possible. We always had the reassurance of knowing they were there in the background, and I followed their advice religiously in a very difficult situation. Most importantly they always had time to talk. I don’t know how we would have coped without them.” 

Martin is running the Sheffield Half Marathon on 7 April in aid of Rennie Grove Peace. He says: “The care the charity provided for Mum and the support for our family was so important. Being able to bring Mum home wouldn’t have worked without their help. I’m very grateful they were there when we needed them and now it’s important to us to give something back. I want other families to have the same options we did.

“Rennie Grove Peace made it able for us to do things for Mum that we thought would be impossible. The charity makes the impossible possible.”