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Pilgrims Hospice closure in Canterbury sparks heartbreaking tale of how it gave cherished moments to dying man's family in Canterbury

By Gerry Warren

When Mike and Vicki Radford met through an online dating agency in 2010, love soon blossomed and they looked forward to spending the rest of their lives together.

But just three years later, Mike – a 41-year-old leisure centre manager –was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Despite surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and Mike’s iron will to beat it, he was eventually forced to accept he could not defeat the disease.

Mike Radford with wife Vicki and daughters Molly and Florence

As his health declined, Vicki faced the prospect of caring for Mike and their two young daughters, Molly, three, and Florence, two, at their home in Station Road, Whitstable.

Staff from the Pilgrims Hospice would visit to help, but it was not until Mike was offered a bed at the centre - which is set to close - that Vicki says they could cherish their last moments together as a family.

The 35-year-old nursery nurse said: “I just couldn’t cope any more. Mike was 6ft 8in and when he fell, which he did quite often, I couldn’t pick him up.

“He had been in and out of hospital and, frankly, it was a complete nightmare.

“Different staff would come and go and nobody would have a clue what was wrong with him.

“I used to fear leaving him at night. And, apparently, cancer doesn’t exist at weekends and bank holidays for the NHS.

“But I was initially reluctant to let him go into the hospice.

Mike and Vicki with daughters Molly and Florence

“I just thought it would be a place of death and doom and gloom.

“In reality, it could not have been more different.

“It was a bright, warm, welcoming place with immense love, kindness and care.

"At home our relationship had almost become nurse and patient, but suddenly I became his wife again..." Vicki Radford

“It wasn’t until then that I realised how hard and stressful looking after him and the children had been.

“It took the pressure off me hugely.

"At home our relationship had almost become nurse and patient, but suddenly I became his wife again and the children got to spend quality time with their dad.

"We could be a couple again, and the hospice even arranged for me to take Mike to the cinema on Valentine’s Day.

“When we came back, they had smothered his bed with rose petals and chocolates.

“They went above and beyond and even helped Mike arrange a surprise birthday party for me.”

Vicki Radford

The couple married in May last year, two months after Mike was diagnosed and five months earlier than they had planned.

Speaking just days before what would have been their first wedding anniversary, Vicki said: “His funeral was at All Saints Church, where we were married and he is now buried, and we had a collection for the hospice.

“As a family, we must have raised around £3,000 and we also bought 16 touch lamps for the centre.

“There is no way that kind of care could be provided in the home or hospitals.

“It is vital that the unit stays open and it would be a tragedy if it closed.

“That’s why I had to start a Facebook page to try and save it, which I am delighted, but not surprised, has had such a huge response.”

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