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Former midwife on 20 years in palliative care at Marie Curie Hospice

A nurse, who began her career as a midwife, before moving into palliative care has spoken of spending two decades caring for people living with a terminal illness, and their families.

Janet Suart (CORR) began working at the Marie Curie – Cardiff and the Vale Hospice in Penarth in November 1997, and has spent that time making “every day count” for patients.

In that time, she has seen the charity move from caring for patients with terminal cancer, to providing care and support to patients living with any terminal illness – and their families.

Speaking ahead of International Nurses Day on May 12, Janet, who was working as a midwife across rural Africa before returning to Wales in 1991, said:

“I knew nothing about palliative care, I had never worked in palliative care before, but when I walked in, it just had a lovely feeling to it, it was small, it was friendly and it was just what I needed.”

Janet says there have been changes during her time at the hospice, including providing care for people with a terminal illness other than cancer, which required a lot of learning about other conditions at end of life, and learning  more about how terminal illness affects the wider family.

Janet has also worked as a ward sister, took on the manual handling training of staff – and has been an ambassador for the charity, winning Nurse of the Year in 2006.

She said while many people go into nursing wanting to make people better, palliative care means having to make the remainder of people’s lives better – and only one chance to get it right.

“What we as nurses would consider very often a really important thing, wasn’t the patient’s top priority.

“It was about looking at how to make their lives better, and making every day count.  Every case, every person is an individual and you have to treat them as such.”

Talking of her time at the hospice, Janet said she has been at countless weddings, christenings and graduation celebrations – moments she says are all very special, but also challenging.

“There was one particular one that we had that we had to get his pain control just so right that he would be able to be awake and stand and be able to conduct the wedding without being too sleepy or in any pain,” she said, adding that they managed to get it just right.”

But Janet isn’t afraid of challenges – as demonstrated through not one, but three overseas trek challenges she has taken part in to raise money for, or awareness of, Marie Curie.

Janet first took part in a trek for Marie Curie climbing the Atlas Mountains and raising £10,000.

She then joined Richard Parks on his climb of Kilimanjaro, before trekking the Great Wall of China six months later, raising a further £4,500.

“When we did Kili, the oxygen levels were low on the top and you could almost experience breathing difficulties that some of our patients go through, because you are really gasping for air up there,” she added.

“Every limb, every part of your body aches, every part of your body is hurting, and I said if I see another boulder I have got to climb over, I’m going to cry!

“But it pushes you out of your comfort zone, and to be able to cope out of your comfort zone teaches you a lot.

“It also teaches you that when you are faced with any situation, you can do it in a calm way. Very often we are faced with difficult situations here at the hospice and it’s about keeping calm, it’s about supporting the staff to get through those situations.”

Janet, who retired from the hospice in February, adds that she’s had a wonderful time working for Marie Curie.

“They are an incredible team who not only support each other through the difficult days, but also show such compassion, empathy and dedication to providing outstanding care to all our patients,” she said.

“I am proud to have known them and be part of such an incredible team. What a journey, what an experience.”

International Nurses Day is on Saturday 12th May 2018.