Losing Mum to breast cancer – Olenka’s story

  • 28 November, 2023
  • News

Olenka’s mum, Karen Jane Ovis, was cared for by Dorothy House when she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. In this interview, Olenka tells us all about her mum, the treatment and care she received from the Hospice, and why she wants to support us in our mission to provide end of life care for everyone who needs it.

Karen received hospice care for terminal breast cancer with Dorothy House

Olenka’s mum

Karen received hospice care for terminal breast cancer with Dorothy House

“My mum was a patient at Dorothy House for about a year before she died. She moved to the UK from South Africa about 13 and a half years ago and lived in Keynsham. She was a chartered accountant by profession but when she was diagnosed terminal six years ago, she had to retire. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 12 years ago, but after some successful treatment unfortunately it returned and had metastasized. She was given a prognosis of two years, but amazingly she lived for a further six years. She was only 61 when she died; she fought it right up until the end.

My mum was a very bubbly person. She loved to talk to people, including strangers, and when they left she had always made them feel special in some way.”



Karen’s time at the Hospice

“Mum struggled with denial and took a long time to seek help until Dorothy House came along. She attended Day Patient Services and received Counselling, which really helped and allowed her to talk openly with other people experiencing similar situations. She also accessed Dorothy House’s Creative Arts and received Complimentary Therapies such as Reflexology and Massage.

She was referred to Dorothy House through the Royal United Hospital in Bath, and when she visited Winsley she fell in love with the place. She found tranquility there and it was a pleasure to visit; there was joy. She always said she never wanted to die at home. I think it also felt like a safety net for dealing with her pain management which at the end was very important.

This time last year, my mum was in hospital and the kids hated visiting; they were scared. When she was transferred to Dorothy House they automatically assumed it would be the same as a hospital: the smell of other people, the lack of privacy, the beeping noises. But the Hospice was so different. There’s tranquility, lots of different quiet areas, everybody’s calm and they have private rooms with en-suite bathrooms, with patio doors that open up into the garden so you can see the Fireflies at night.

It didn’t feel clinical and we could bring all her things and make it feel like her own room. It wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be, we called it the hotel! My children enjoyed playing Monopoly in the Family Room.”

Karen received hospice care for terminal breast cancer with Dorothy House

Time with family, making memories

“While she was being treated by Dorothy House she received all kinds of therapies. She loved the massages and she also did lots of the Creative Arts therapies with Roz and Bethan.

They went above and beyond with the memory vase mum made. We began creating the vase when mum was a day patient and when she was finally admitted to the Inpatient Unit it was just before the half term. Roz set up the whole creative room for my sons to paint the vase because mum wasn’t going to be able to finish it. Roz even managed to fire it in the kiln and complete it before mum died, so she was able to see it and know it was ready.

Karen received hospice care for terminal breast cancer with Dorothy House

Mum also received emotional and psychological support, which she must have found effective as she persuaded me to receive some too. I was also supported by the Family Services Team, who I was speaking to from the beginning and right up to the end of Mum’s life. They coached me on how to explain everything to my children, which was something I had been worried about.

We find walking through the Firefly forest and creating an exciting, magical moment for us as a family a useful kind of therapy. We can come here and remember her when she was still herself and happy. Mum loved anything sparkly, so she really enjoyed looking at the lights in the Firefly Woods from the Beacon at night time.

Supporting Dorothy House

Anyone referred to Dorothy House is in the best care possible. Not only because it’s a wonderful and beautiful place, but also for the family support. No question is too big or too small, everything is important. The people who work there are immensely compassionate.

Karen and her family

My family and I would never have been able to have this positive experience without Dorothy House; our only other option would have been for her to stay in the hospital.

“They provide death with dignity; I’ll never forget that.”

I would hate to think that other people would not be able to get that kind of experience because the funds weren’t there. My Dad and I are planning to run the London Marathon for Dorothy House in 2025 and I’ve donated a lot of Mum’s things to Dorothy House retail to raise money for this charity that does such remarkable work.”



Fundraising for Dorothy House

If you would like to help fundraise for Dorothy House to support those with life-limiting illnesses, click here to find out how you can get involved.