When Sam Holland was diagnosed with cancer at just 50 years old, it was a huge shock. As a PE teacher for 28 years and avid exerciser, her fitness had always been important to her. For Sam and Dan, her husband, this made the diagnosis hard to take in.
Sam and Dan met at The Blue School in Wells in 1993 where they worked as teachers and were married five years later. Sam loved to teach and in her personal life was very active and loved to spend time outdoors with friends and family.
At the beginning of this year, Sam noticed that her running times were getting slower and she was feeling tired. As the weeks went by, she went from exercising two times a day to struggling to walk up a hill without stopping to catch her breath. She went to see her GP who did several tests which uncovered a kidney stone. A further scan at hospital unfortunately revealed that she had a tumour in her lung which had already spread to her liver, spine and pelvis.
Shortly after her diagnosis, Sam was admitted to hospital as her condition deteriorated and the cancer spread. An initial dose of chemotherapy was sadly unsuccessful, and her doctor shared the news that she had weeks to live. After this news, Sam was transferred to St Margaret’s Hospice’s In-patient Unit in Taunton. She stayed at the hospice for three weeks before she died peacefully at the beginning of July with Dan by her side.
We spoke to Dan to find out how the hospice made a difference to him & Sam and why he is continuing to support St Margaret’s in Sam’s memory.
“When Sam first became unwell it was horrific, it was so hard to see such a passionate lover of sport to be deprived of the activities that gave her so much satisfaction,” Dan said. “She was my best friend, it was so hard to watch her struggle and see her in pain.”
“Neither of us had been into a hospice before. I didn’t really know what to expect. The first few days were spent learning the routine after being in hospital. It did feel overwhelming at first as I wanted some structure but after a few days, it settled.”
Dan & Sam Holland
“It was the little things that made such a different at the hospice. She had an air mattress which was more comfortable for her and big doors that opened out onto a patio with a beautiful garden. It was lovely to have that space and access to fresh air. She had her own bathroom and the big chair in her room was a gamechanger. She couldn’t sit for long out of her bed while in hospital due to the pain in her pelvis, but she sat comfortably in that chair for hours!”
“I’m so pleased that Sam was able to go to St Margaret’s, it meant we had the time to be together and we were able to talk about the important things,” Dan said. “Some people don’t get that. The staff at St Margaret’s were incredible, they went above and beyond, continuing to assess Sam’s condition and make changes to her care so that she would be comfortable and pain free.
“They recognised Sam as a strong, independent and private person, they were hugely respectful of that, allowing Sam to do as much for herself as possible and treated her with care and compassion, always striving to protect her dignity. All the hospice staff were so supportive and explained everything to me as Sam’s condition began to deteriorate.
“Sam and I were together for many years. We were best friends as well as husband and wife and I just wanted to spend as much time with her as possible.”
“During Sam’s last days I was able to stay at the hospice so I could be with her. They set up a bed for me so I could lay next to Sam and go to sleep holding her hand. It meant such a lot to me. They also arranged for Sam’s close friends and her brother to visit to say goodbye which was important to everyone.”
Since Sam passed away, Dan has been supported by St Margaret’s Bereavement Team. He created a Remembered with Love tribute page in Sam’s memory and has raised over £25,000 for the hospice which is amazing!
“The care that Sam received was amazing and the staff at the hospice are incredible,” Dan said. “All I wanted was for her to be comfortable and free of pain and St Margaret’s gave that to Sam. It’s astounding that most of the care Sam received is funded by the local community and so I now want to make sure I support too, so they can help more people like Sam.”
We would like to thank Dan for sharing his story.