Former Lord Mayor regains her confidence with St Luke’s support

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Major surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy…it’s a tough schedule of cancer treatment that would leave many patients crushed by the burden.

Yet former Lord Mayor of Sheffield Jackie Drayton insists that the only way to approach the challenge of a life-threatening tumour is with positivity and good humour.

It’s important, she says, to emphasise the high levels of care she has received from Sheffield’s Charles Clifford Dental Hospital, the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Weston Park Hospital and her Macmillan head and neck specialist nurse.

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Then there’s her family, as well as her many friends who have been with her every step of the way through her months of ill health.

Former Lord Mayor Jackie Drayton says St Luke's helped restore her confidenceFormer Lord Mayor Jackie Drayton says St Luke's helped restore her confidence
Former Lord Mayor Jackie Drayton says St Luke's helped restore her confidence

“This has been a long journey and I couldn't have got through it without the love, help and support of my wonderful family, my fantastic friends, old and new, the various medical teams who've looked after me and the kindness of strangers,” Jackie says.

“Cancer is a rollercoaster of emotion, the anger, the ‘why me’ phase, the questioning what it’s all about - and the people I love and care for were with me through it all.”

And one of the other things that has proved the greatest help in maintaining her spirits and helping her regain her confidence after months of complex treatment, she says, is the continued support of St Luke’s Hospice.

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Jackie spent 25 years representing the people of Sheffield’s Burngreave ward, where she herself has lived most of her life.

She was a popular Lord Mayor in 2006/7 and in the last ten years of council service she was a Cabinet member for children and families and also spent several years looking after public health issues, including the difficult days of the pandemic.

It was shortly after she retired in 2022, though, that Jackie was diagnosed with cancer in the lining of her mouth and jaw bone.

That led to the 17-hour operation which saw surgeons remove the fibula - or calf bone - from her leg and use it to create a new section of jaw bone which replaced the part that had been severely damaged by the tumour.

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That was then followed by the sessions of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and finally chemotherapy again.

“I think there was a point when my my family and friends thought it was the end,” she admits.

“But my consultant never gave up and I never gave up either - why would I do that?

“In my head I am always fighting it - I love living my life and I am going to carry on living my life!”

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It was at the most serious point, when she was at her lowest ebb, that Jackie was placed under the care of the St Luke’s Specialist Palliative Care Community Team, who took support into her home.

“They helped set everything up that I needed to be as comfortable as possible,” she says.

“It was lovely that they came to me and it felt very safe that they were there for me.

“I do know too that I will get that support whenever I need them, they have said they are here and that is so important to me.”

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The cancer treatment has left Jackie with serious speech problems and she can no longer eat or drink - all her nourishment comes through a tube inserted into her stomach.

Yet her conversation remains as speedy and eloquent and as forthright and funny as ever, thanks to the wipe-down board on which she jots the words and phrases she struggles with the most.

“Eating, drinking and talking, the three things I enjoy the most and officially I can’t do any of them - but I’m still here!” she laughs.

It was one of the St Luke’s Community team who, as Jackie emerged from her treatment programme, suggested she might want to take part in some of the Patient and Family Support Services (PAFS) activities at the St Luke’s Ecclesall Road South site.

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The PAFS service delivers the non-clinical aspects of St Luke’s care that help patients manage their symptoms.

Patients can access physio and occupational therapy, wellbeing and creative therapies, social work and chaplaincy or spiritual support.

There are sessions on relaxation and wellbeing techniques, tips on nutrition, routine and sleep as well as fun activities for all interests.

Families and friends play a valuable role in a patient’s care too so Ecclesall Road South also provides dedicated support for loved ones too through social, spiritual and bereavement support.

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“It was suggested I might attend and when I said I couldn’t drive to Ecclesall Road South, they said I didn’t have to worry, that they would get me here,” Jackie recalls.

At the time she was still feeling the drop in confidence that was the result of the surgery and the subsequent speech issues, but she decided to take up the invitation.

She is now a regular Thursday visitor, taking part the morning art sessions and then moving on to crafting in the afternoon and also finding time for the popular St Luke’s weekly quiz.

“It’s brilliant and it’s better than sitting at home and falling asleep in the chair,” Jackie says.

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“But it isn’t just about doing something I love like the art or learning something new at Crafternoon.

“The really good thing about being here is that it isn’t just about the people who have cancer, it’s also about people who have been bereaved for instance - people who have suffered loss as a result of cancer and other illnesses.

“They have been through it from a different perspective, they have looked after loved ones and lived with illness and they can say things your family and friends can’t.

“It’s lovely having that mix of people to talk to and the staff and volunteers are so wonderful too and so helpful - they even helped me fill out the paperwork so I could get a blue badge for my car now I’m driving again.

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“Honestly, I knew that St Luke’s was absolutely fantastic and I have had friends and family who have been patients but I can now say from personal experience that the care they have given is second to none.

“Everybody talks to you and you can tell they are really interested, they are listening to any problems and worries.”

The PAFS sessions have proved such a morale booster that Jackie has now discovered a renewed zest for life and joined the Sheffield Celebrated Clog Dancers, the oldest clog dancing ensemble in the country.

“In the past I have had to fight for myself, I had to fight for others and I still am fighting for others,” she says.

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“But I’ve had to learn to fight for myself again and St Luke’s has been there for me.

“St Luke’s has given me something to look forward to but it has also really changed my life and given me back my confidence - how brilliant is that?”

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