My wife and I have each had the experience of a cancer diagnosis, and the experience of supporting each other through cancer. We both believe that caring for someone with cancer is a very specific kind of challenge because all you can do is watch and try to help where you can.
On holiday in 2016, my wife, Glenys, fell ill. On our return, she had blood tests and an ultrasound scan. In addition to gall stones, which were the cause of her illness, the scan showed up an enlarged ovary and patches on her liver and bowel.
The doctors and staff at the hospital were immensely proactive and helpful. Glenys was positive, but I felt scared, about both the outcome and the journey. Her treatment started with a visit to a gynaecologist for a CT scan but this showed that an operation wasn’t appropriate because of the multiple cancer sites.
The next visit was to the oncologist and Macmillan nurse. Chemo with two different drugs started, and it wasn’t long before Glenys’ hair was coming out. Glenys has short, salt and pepper hair, and the wig the NHS provided was an excellent match. I wanted her to have green or red, or best of all, blond, but she declined!
Watching your partner go through the chemotherapy treatment is heart-breaking because there is very little you can do to alleviate the discomfort and pain. As it happened, Glenys’ reaction to the chemo, apart from the hair loss, was mild, except that sometimes the chemo was delayed because her blood count was too low. Towards the end of the six cycles she had little energy, so I became some help in carrying out daily tasks. I’m an engineer and engineers solve problems, but it doesn’t work that way with cancer and chemo. I often felt helpless which I think may be a common side effect in partners of women with ovarian cancer.
It is important to get into a state of being positive rather than giving up. This applies to both the person diagnosed with cancer and those around them. A number of times we were told that having a positive attitude increases the chances of a good outcome. I noted in my diary a number of times that I was worried and at one time considered asking for counselling. I tried not to show this worry, but wasn’t always successful.
The final scan in April 2017 showed a vast improvement, so surgery became an option for Glenys. Her blood count was still low so they decided to do a laparoscopy (minimally invasive keyhole surgery) to see what was going on in her abdomen, and how much cancer remained. “Not enough there to do anything” was the response. We were very happy.
A year later tests showed that the cancer had returned with a vengeance. A different combination of chemo meant there was no hair loss this time. We are at a stage now where the second cycle of six chemo sessions has ended and we await a decision on when surgery can take place. Genetic testing will indicate the best treatment option for the future.
Life is uncertain, but with cancer, very uncertain. Every person is different. 20 years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer which returned 3 years later. Since then it has stayed away. Both Glenys and I have come to the conclusion that being a partner of a cancer patient is as mentally wearing as having cancer yourself.
As we have travelled this journey we have met marvellous people who have gone on for many years having treatment and coping with the results. We’ve got this far because of the amazing support of family and friends. Although my wife and I are no strangers to grief, both of us with cancer has taught us that the love of family and friends is worth more than any material wealth. We keep travelling.