“Being a Marie Curie Nurse is a privilege”

Marie Curie Nurse Elizabeth talks about the "extraordinary experience" of being there for some at the end of their life.

How did you become a Marie Curie Nurse?

After taking a degree in history and drama, I trained as a teacher, but it just wasn’t for me. So I went on to do my nurse training at St Thomas’ hospital in Westminster, London.

When palliative care nursing on the ward came up, I didn’t have any fear around death and end of life care. I just wanted to get it right.

I was a palliative care nurse in London until my ma died in 2001 from ovarian cancer. After that, I moved into caring for people with dementia for a few years.

But I found I missed palliative care. So I applied to Marie Curie and I have worked for the charity for seven years now.

What do you most enjoy about being a Marie Curie Nurse?

I loved nursing from the moment I started and I still do. It is just for me.

It is such a huge difference caring for someone in their own home rather than in a hospital environment, and that’s why I love being a Marie Curie Nurse.

To go into patients’ homes and help them and their families is a huge privilege. It can be a difficult job, but the satisfaction you get from letting someone die peacefully and with dignity makes it all worthwhile.

Are there special qualities needed to be a Marie Curie Nurse?

To do this job you have to have patience and compassion. It’s about being able to put yourself in the same position as the person on the receiving end.

To be with someone who is dying is such an extraordinary experience, an exclusive time for a family. As a Marie Curie Nurse, you are a privileged guest. You are there to offer help but you mustn’t rule the roost.

It is a negotiation and collaboration with the family, to decide what is best for their situation, with the benefit of our nursing experience to guide them through it.

Are there any patients who particularly stand out in your memory?

I cared for one man who was a great football fan but he also loved music and he had Nessun Dorma by Puccini played over and over again. It was lovely because he died listening to it. Even now, whenever I hear the song I think of him and it always makes me cry.

How do you cope with the demands of your job?

I go into my garden to relax – a garden is about renewal and that does comfort me. I sometimes also watch deliberately sad films so I can have a cry – it’s cathartic. I walk miles and miles to see life carrying on.

If you need care and support at home from a Marie Curie Nurse you should contact your district nurse or GP.