My husband was diagnosed with eye cancer in 2001. He was absolutely devastated, in pieces, couldn’t believe it. I was also in pieces and emotionally very, very raw but I didn’t think I had the right to have support. So Mack got all the support, he went to Penny Brohn, a cancer support centre and I just continued to hold onto all my feelings. He had his eye removed, came home and recovered and he went for lots of counselling and support and I mean while tried to carry on with my life, which was quite hard.
One day I was doing supply teaching and something happened that day which triggered me having a massive, massive fall out and I couldn’t stop crying. Even then though I didn’t think it’s time to go and get support. So we carried on and Mack carried on. He was clear for a while. He had scans every six months. Then the cancer returned.
The disease progressed over eleven years and right at the end, in the eleventh year someone said to me ‘Pam, have you ever had any support?’ and I said ‘no, I haven’t’. Someone recommended We Hear You (then Positive Action on Cancer) and I started going when Mack was dying. It was brilliant and it got me through that very, very traumatic period when I really needed to let go and splurge but I deeply wish I’d had some counselling earlier. I felt so guilty all the time, I got mad, I felt sad, the whole range of emotions and so I think a service that supports everyone, that can support the “carer” as well is so valuable because then you can be with the person that’s got the illness in a more authentic way. I think when you shut down your emotions other unwanted emotions surface and I think that’s what happened with me. To kind of hold it all together, I put a lid on things and I don’t think that’s very healthy.
He was very strong too mind you so sometimes it was difficult for me to be strong. He really closed in, I felt quite shut out. In fact I used to say that the cancer was like a third person in our marriage because it was like this cloud there all the time.
The main thing We Hear You gave me was to just having someone there to listen to me because it’s a chance to just splurge really and at that point when I went, Mac was in hospital and literally at the end. It was great to have somewhere to escape to from the hospital to go and talk about what was going on. I’d go once a week and to say how I was and to be completely honest, cry all session if I needed to. It was everything I needed at that time.
I realised afterwards, because I was having counselling during the time when Mac was actually dying, that it made me stronger. It’s this idea of being heard without anyone necessarily judging you and because of that I was able to walk taller and dig deep in myself and think about what I needed and stop worrying about what everyone else needed. It was really important.
I would say to others in this situation- If you feel that you’re putting a brave face on it which you will be I imagine it’s worth exploring the support that’s out there. Otherwise things bottle up and they come out inappropriately.