A Partners View

WP_000712I recently did an interview via email for my input into a upcoming publication about breast cancer.

I was asked three questions as part of this and in answering these it caused me to reflect back on the impact that cancer had on our family.

I can’t and never will think that I understand what it was like for Mair actually going through it herself or any of the mums we support at Mummy’s Star

What I hopefully can do, and in doing so be of help and support, is share the experience as a partner of a woman who had it, about the impact I saw, but also what we can gleam from the wonderful women we work with at Mummy’s Star who have been diagnosed with any form of cancer

What’s your personal experience with breast cancer?

When my wife Mair was 22 weeks pregnant with our second child she discovered a lump in her left breast, thought at the time to possibly be a blocked milk duct as part of the pregnancy. Following medical examination the lump was discovered to be a 6.5cm cancerous tumour in her left breast on 18 June 2012

She immediately began a course of chemotherapy at Tameside General Hospital on 28 June. The chemotherapy was known as FEC (Fluorouracil (5FU), epirubicin and cyclophosphamide) and this continued up to the healthy birth of Merlin Ray in September 2012. Her progress was very good and the lump in her breast was described as barely palpable at a routine examination.

After Merlin’s birth Mair began chemotherapy again, this time a single drug called Docetaxel (or Taxotere®) at The Christie, Manchester. The medication left her incredibly tired, nauseous and requiring long periods of bed rest despite having a new born baby. A lot of help was needed and family, friends and the community around us rallied around to offer practical help. During this time Mair had begun to suffer from migraines for the first time

Following her seventh chemotherapy session, Mair became very unwell and was admitted to hospital in November with severe migraines, dehydration, sickness and blurred vision. Upon investigation it was discovered that the cancer had spread to the meninges lining of the brain (a very rare spread) and was untreatable given its accelerated growth and her poor state of health. She had metastatic breast cancer.

She was transferred to Willow Wood Hospice, Ashton and after three days she passed away peacefully surrounded by her family on 6 December 2012. At the time Merlin was just 10 weeks old and our daughter Martha three. Mair was just 41.

What advice would you give to anyone going through breast cancer, whether personally, or with a loved one, to try and help them feel like themselves?

I would say ignore expectation! There is so much information out there at the moment that is built around the perception of what someone with breast cancer goes through but it seldom decribes the real experience that someone will have. Why? Well because your cancer is exactly that… Its yours and you will deal with it the way you see fit, not the way others expect you too or is the stereotypical way that people presume cancer is like. It will bring about the rawest of emotion in you and in your partner….but in the midst of that there will be smiles and there will be moments in the experience that you or your partner will treasure.

I remember getting a text from my wife telling me that she had got frustrated with her hair coming out so had just gone into the shower and rubbed her hair with her knuckles to try and get it all out. Doing this had left her with sprigs of hair all over the place so she asked me to shave it properly when  I got home. I have to say this is one of the most intimate things we ever shared. She trusted me at her most vulnerable and it helped lift some of the issues around her hair loss.

Try and focus on facts. I know the mind wanders and yes my wifes immediate thought upon diagnosis was whether she would see the children grow up or not…but the facts we had did not suggest this. Yes of course you see and read all the time of far too many tragic young losses to this disease, my wife included however try to remain on the fact that this is the rarety not the common.

When physically possible try and go about the things you would have been doing anyway if cancer hadn’t intervened. Don’t stop making plans because of treatment otherwise you will end up consumed and your day to life will become about fitting in around cancer rather than it fitting in around you and your life which will not be beaten.

Finally and perhaps an odd suggestion. My wife began to refer to her cancer as Larry The Lump. It put a smile in a conversation and then ceased to be an elephant in the room. Might not work for everyone but for my wife it made her giggle. She even began a blog shortly before Merlin was born in which Larry was going to be the blogger in third person however never really got a chance to write much between Merlin being born, treatment and then her downturn.

What should people expect about life ‘after’ breast cancer? Even in a remarkably difficult situation as yourself, is there anything that people can do that help? 

Obviously my experience didn’t end well, in fact it ended in the worst possible way imaginable however when Mair was alive we used to talk about a phrase that was used several times during her treatment. Of how post treatment and surgery she would get back to normal, but it would a ‘new kind of normal’

Why? Why can’t someone who has had cancer get back to their normal? I find this such a mentallly restricting phrase to say to a cancer patient! You lead as normal a life as you chose too not what someone else thinks you will, and based on an average statistic no doubt.

Don’t let cancer tell you what to do. You are not defined by your diagnosis. You are you, not cancer, just as I am not defined by the fact that I am that young guy who lost his wife to cancer

It is true that I think, from both my wifes perspective and many of the women I now work closely with, a cancer diagnosis does awaken an inner you that may have been previously subdued for whatever reason. It can awaken a new perspective, a thirst for life, where the mundane no longer bothers people and they chase things that they didn’t think they were capable of previously whether it be a career change, a fitness bug or whatever.

After everything is done, don’t feel eternally obliged to do loads for cancer, cancer charities and cancer awareness. Cancer has impacted on your life and you have every right in the world to want to keep it at arms length as much as possible. I  would guesstimate that there are as many people affected by cancer doing some of the above as there are who aren’t and there is nothing wrong with that. It was a chapter in your life. Once it has been read it does not neccesarily need reading again and again

Don’t lose sight of who you are!

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