A woman who has been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour has been told she has just weeks to live – she describes her position as ‘privileged’ and is throwing a party this weekend.
Old Town woman Sue McLean, a registrar for 31 years, had a couple of ‘funny turns’ last month before being diagnosed with the terminal illness. Despite the devastating news that she only had weeks to live, 68-year-old Sue, has the most remarkable attitude to her prognosis and has spoken openly about her impending death.
She said, “Whilst it is incredibly sad, I think I have been given an amazing and special privilege and a unique opportunity.
“When someone has a terminal illness they know they are going to die. I want to take full advantage of the unusual position I find myself in to be able to choose to do the things that matter to me.
“Few people get to hear the things people say about them – either good or bad – which seems a real shame.”
On Saturday (May 11), Sue, together with her husband Alan will open their Long Acre Close home to their dearest friends and family for a ‘final big party’. Sue and Alan say the occasion will be ‘upbeat, relaxed and informal’.
Sue added, “The day will provide an opportunity to chat about the good times, remember the absurd and foolish times and all the things we have done together.”
Sue and Alan hope their friends will bring photos, stories and anecdotes to help jog Sue’s memory.
In herself, Sue appears well but sometimes muddles her words slightly and has lost the ability to touch type, which she has found frustrating.
However, husband Alan, who has been with Sue for 25 years, joked, “She is a complete fraud because you would never know by looking at her.”
Sue’s son, two step-children and seven grandchildren are devastated by the news but are now spending as much quality time together as possible.
Sue said, “It has been very emotional and there have been lots of tears but also lots of laughs too.”
The family has been using the final weeks of Sue’s life as an opportunity to capture precious memories by taking silly photos.
Alan said, “These photos will be so important to us in years to come.”
Alan explained, “The family is distraught, emotional and devastated, but conversely, Sue has taken the prognosis on board in the most inspirational way.
“She is stoic in her approach to this situation.”
Sue, a St Wilfrid’s Hospice volunteer, is now sorting out her affairs in preparation for her death and organising her own funeral.
Alan said, “She is driven, focussed, dedicated and inspirational.
“She even thanked the hospital staff for their honesty in delivering the news.”
Sue’s attitude towards death made her a much-valued member of the St Wilfrid’s Hospice team, where she had been volunteering since she retired from East Sussex County Council.
Rhiannon Wheeler, voluntary services manager at the hospice, said, “It was clear that Sue was going to be an asset to the volunteer team at St Wilfrid’s as soon as we met her.
“She is open and warm, instantly likeable, very engaged with life and switched on to the hospice movement.
“Sue has very many skills and she put them to good use in several different roles in the hospice.
“Alongside Judith, another volunteer, Sue oversaw the administration to support with running meetings and events for the volunteer alumni group, The Associates.
“Sue has had a big impact on the work of the hospice since she has been here; a valued member of the host team and always a pleasure to be around. We shall miss her a lot.”
Jenna Stringer, memory co-ordinator at the hospice, said, “Sue started volunteering at the hospice, last summer.
“She was originally a host, one of the friendly folk who meet and greet visitors and serve the patients their meals.
“Then, because of her involvement at the register office, she felt drawn to work with the In Memory team.
“We attract donations to support the work of the hospice by offering a variety of ways that families can remember their loved ones. Sue was dedicated to this role and is loved by all who worked with her.
“We hope she has a brilliant time at her party.”
This comes as hospices and councils across the country prepare to mark Dying Matters Week next week (May 13 to 19). The awareness week aims to encourage people to strike up a conversation with their loved ones.
A nationwide poll found that although 70 per cent of people say they feel comfortable talking about death, only a third have actually discussed their wishes in relation to their own death.
Dying Matters encourages people to make a will, deciding to donate organs, or discuss future care wishes with a family member.
Conversations are the first step – and can help us, and our communities, to be ready for death, dying and the bereavement process.
Sue added, “I think now we choose to talk about death a little more and we are more accepting of it.”
To her friends, she said, “If you feel that you are comfortable to spend some time with me, Alan and our remarkable and special family, we would really appreciate your love and support.”