I've known the devastating impact cancer can have from an early age. I was 10 when my mum died. She was 49. Five years later, my aunty, her youngest sister died of cancer too. Then, last summer my family received news we never wanted to hear again. "I'm not very well" my dad said.
We were in his kitchen, having a cup of tea while I washed up dishes left from his 66th birthday party we'd celebrated the night before. My ears pricked."What kind of not very well?" The bottom of my stomach had dropped and I didn't really want to know the answer. "I'm waiting for some test results, but they've found something on my lung..."
My dad was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer two days later. By the time they found it, it was too late to operate. Chemotherapy was available but the doctors said it might only increase his life by at most, a month or two. My dad chose to face his cancer head on, without treatment and with his beard intact.
I've never thought of myself as a carer but when my dad was discharged from hospital care, after choosing to spend the last months of his life at home, he was cared for by myself and our family as we were the people that were there day in, day out. I'm one of five children, and three siblings already lived close by, but my sister and I moved home to be there too.
Caring became part of our everyday routine, but each day was different. We made beetroot juices every morning, cooked meals to boost the immune system, and bedtimes were an endless trip up and down the stairs: baths, porridge, hot water bottles, foot massages. My dad struggled with sleep, so we did everything we could to make him as comfortable as possible.
Despite our efforts, we are no medical professionals. Sometimes I worried we were doing things wrong. While we had information booklets, when you're in the midst of it you don't have a moment to really process the information. My dad was happier at home avoiding clinical settings, but he had some questions that we didn't have answers to and it was when he was awake in the middle of the night that I think he'd have liked to talk to someone most.
When my dad died earlier this year, I'm grateful he was surrounded by people he loved as I know not everyone is so lucky.
Caring is exhausting; physically and emotionally draining. You need to stay strong for someone else while watching your entire world crumble in front of you. According to recent research by Macmillan, there are nearly 1.5 million cancer carers in the UK. More than half of them don't receive any support at all. I'm heartbroken that my dad has died, but I feel privileged I could support him in the last months of his life. I don't know if I could have done that alone.
I read a quote the other day - 'Caring for ourselves is a template for caring for others and for the whole planet.' We need to make sure that carers get the right support to look after themselves so they can continue to look after others. Macmillan thinks no-one should face caring alone, but we can't be there for everyone. We need the government's help. During Carer's Week I signed up to Macmillan carers' campaign to make sure everyone caring for someone with cancer gets the support they need.
Macmillan offers information and advice to people caring for someone with cancer on its website www.macmillan.org.uk/carers and support line 0808 808 00 00. Many carers also share support on the charity's online community. To find out more about Macmillan's carers campaign, please visit: macmillan.org.uk/carerscampaign.
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