AS St Peter's Hospice celebrates 35 years of caring for patients with life-limiting illness and their relatives, Gazette reporter Marion Sauvebois meets with the nurses who have accompanied them on their harrowing journey.

WITH laughter and smiling faces welcoming you everywhere you turn, St Peter’s Hospice is poles apart from the stereotypical grim and sterile ward the word hospice conjures up in many of us.

It may be a place patients choose to spend their last moments but for most of them it is a warm, caring haven and the promise of much-needed comfort and hope.

Although dedicated to the spiritual and emotional well-being as well as managing cancer sufferers' physical pain, Bristol's only hospice is there as much to support them through the most gruelling time in their lives, as their relatives.

"We are here to support their friends and family, the person who is caring for them at home," in-patient ward manager Jan Little told the Gazette.

"It’s completely different from working in a hospital. The focus is on the person, not just the disease. You could not get this type of help anywhere else.

"It’s a place full of laughter. Just because you are ill, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a laugh every now and then."

She added: "The majority of our patients are in their own homes. Some people come to the in-patient unit to die but a lot of people come in here to get their pain or symptom sorted out and then go home."

Jan worked at what is now the Bristol Oncology Centre when she met one of the first nurses working at the newly-created hospice, which saw a handful of women visiting patients in their own homes, and soon decided to join them.

Many patients opt to use the hospice’s day service each week.

There, they receive individualised care, with nurses always available to share a few reassuring words.

Once assessed, they receive various treatments to ease their suffering like aromatherapy and physiotherapy and follow a specific 12-week programme tailored to their needs.

At the day hospice, they can participate in group discussions to allow them to better deal with anxiety or insomnia, share their fears with others going through the same ordeal, or learn more about certain drugs and their potential side effects.

"We are here to help people with life-limiting illnesses and hopefully what they take away from it helps them reach their optimum level of independence," said Jane Donohue, day service team leader.

But the hospice journey and on-going care does not end with the death of a patient.

Bereavement counselling is available for their relatives weeks and even months after losing a loved one.

As part of its 35th anniversary celebrations, the hospice staff have many plans to improve patients' stay and the services available to them.

This includes building a brand new garden room to be used for therapy. The hospice relies mainly on donations to secure the £7 million it needs to operate each year.

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