Janina Openkowska has led a full and busy life but right now she wouldn’t be without the haven that is Walsall’s Fair Oaks Day Hospice.
The recently retired schoolteacher has secondary breast cancer after the disease was discovered in her bones two and a half years ago.
Initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, she was given between six to 18 months to live two years ago and the cancer has since spread to her lymph nodes (under her arms).
Not surprisingly, Janina, 71, who only retired from her role as a teacher with responsibility for parent and children safeguarding at Oakwood School in Walsall Wood a year ago, has plenty on her mind.
The chemotherapy she was taking – daily tablets, two weeks on and one week off – gave her palmar-plantar erythrodysesthesia or hand-foot syndrome, which meant the skin on her hands peeled and was very painful and tender.
But as she sits amid the tranquillity of the picturesque gardens at Walsall Palliative Care Centre, she has found her own oasis with the friends she has made at Fair Oaks Day Hospice.
“I am still fighting,” said the mother of grown-up children, Rebecca, 47, a nurse and Luke, 40, a firefighter. “It doesn’t matter what we do – it’s the fact I am here and can talk to other patients without holding back which I really value.
“You can’t do that with your loved ones because you are protecting them from how you really feel. Being here is a huge safety net.”
As someone who describes herself as ‘always the go-to person’, Janina now finds herself as the one needing support as she prepares to face some uncomfortable challenges.
“I know once the oral tablets have finished I will be going onto full-blown chemotherapy again and losing my hair but I know I have got the support I need here, not just physically but emotionally too,” she added.
“I have always been fiercely independent, but knowing someone is on the end of the phone is very important to me.
“I also know that if I am taken ill, I can have respite here. It just makes me feel safe knowing they are here if I need them. All the nurses are so wonderful.”
Janina, of Brownhills, takes advantage of the complementary therapy and reflexology – “Whenever I have that I can sleep well and feel relaxed and much better”, she says.
Given what she is going through, Janina welcomes the simple comforts the hospice can provide for her to take away some of the stresses and strains of everyday life.
“I just love it knowing I am coming here every week,” she said. “It’s lovely having a coffee and my dinner made for me – it’s nice to be looked after for a change.”