Mario Romeiro from Folkestone has had an interesting and varied life. Born into the travelling circus, his trapeze act Mario and the Flying Romeiros performed all over the UK and he later married into a fairground family. After being diagnosed with Ampullary carcinoma, a rare form of cancer, Mario is now preparing for the last part of his life with the help of Pilgrims Hospices.
Ever since his diagnosis Mario has been recording his experiences, initially by writing a cancer diary. He wasn’t able to be with his family to break the news, so the diary helped him to communicate everything to them. Then, in August 2018 Mario was referred to Pilgrims Hospices and began accessing services at the Ashford hospice. He attends Time to Create sessions in the Therapy Centre, where patients and carers spend the afternoon together doing art and craft projects. Naturally skilled at drawing, Mario has a BTEC qualification in Art and Design and enjoys these creative groups.
He said: “The Pilgrims team are brilliant. If I have any problems I can tell them how I feel and they’ll help to make sure I’m keeping well and that my symptoms are managed.”
At first, all I heard was ‘cancer’. It doesn’t need to be like that. Pilgrims has helped me to live well; coming to the Time to Create groups is really good for me, otherwise I’d just sit at home. I come here and meet others in the same situation and that really helps.
Mario also does tattoo work from home. His youngest daughter, Rebecca (21), has asked him to tattoo ‘I love you’ on her arm in his own handwriting. The family are preparing in lots of other ways, too. Mario is planning his funeral to take the pressure off his loved ones and make things as easy for them as possible. He has chosen to be cremated, and his children plan to have his ashes made into jewellery as a special keepsake.
His oldest daughter, Sammy Jo, had asked Mario to make voice recordings after he was diagnosed, so The Blackbird Project arrived at the perfect time. This is a new service offered by Pilgrims, enabling patients to record messages for loved ones and store them on bespoke blackbird-shaped USB sticks to keep forever.
Mario said: “I’ve got to learn how to die gracefully. That means not being as stubborn and letting people know how I’m feeling. I’m recording goodbyes and thank yous, my parting messages to the kids and the missus, so they can listen to them after I’m gone. There might be a time when they’re feeling a bit rubbish and then they can listen to my voice and remember: ‘Dad would want me to get off my bum and enjoy life.’ I hope my messages can help them in that way.
“I think some people can never say what they want to when people are there, so The Blackbird Project gives them that opportunity. It’s a great relief knowing that the recordings could bring comfort to family and loved ones.”
Pilgrims is helping Mario and his family to make the most of the time they have together. Asked what advice he would give to others in his position, he said:
“Don’t think it’s the end. At first, all I heard was ‘cancer’. It doesn’t need to be like that. Pilgrims has helped me to live well; coming to the Time to Create groups is really good for me, otherwise I’d just sit at home. I come here and meet others in the same situation and that really helps.”
In Dying Matters Awareness Week, Pilgrims Hospices will host a day-long festival with speakers, workshops and stalls to provoke conversations about and provide information on death and dying.
From practical things like writing a will, to creating a beautiful and meaningful funeral and much, much more.
This is a free event with some ticketed sessions. All are welcome.
Find out more and book tickets at pilgrimshospices.org/bigconversation.