THE BLOG

When I Lost My Wife To Breast Cancer We Had No Support. No One Should Have To Face Breast Cancer Alone

29/11/2016 16:56
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In April 1994, my 29-year-old wife, Chris, found a lump in her right breast in the shower.

She went immediately to our GP, and was referred for tests. Then we received the bad news - it was breast cancer. We had two young boys, just two and four years old.

It's very vague in my memory now but it was all very rapid. We were put on a treadmill and did what we were told. She was booked in straight away for surgery for a mastectomy. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed.

After treatment ended she seemed to be doing well. However, the following summer she started struggling with backache. Throughout August and September she repeatedly went to her GP about it. Time and again he told her it was nothing to worry about. Eventually, he did refer her back to her breast surgeon, who referred her for more tests.

I remember the moment the consultant told me her cancer had spread. She was sat in the ward when the consultant pulled me into a nurse's office. He told me the cancer had spread to her liver, it was terminal and there was nothing more they could do. He then asked if I wanted him to tell her or would I prefer to tell her myself!

I was absolutely stunned, and said I would tell her. I went out onto that busy ward, where we were surrounded by so many other people, and told her the news.

Many people have time to say goodbye before they go, but this wasn't the case for Chris. She went downhill very dramatically and was bedbound within two weeks.

We found out her cancer had spread on the 16th of October, and she passed away exactly one month later on the 16th of November, with me by her side and our children asleep in their beds. Chris was just 30-years-old.

For me, it was the support that was completely lacking. I honestly can't recall receiving any information or support. I was left feeling angry and like the system had let us down.

A year ago, I took my dream job as Director of Services and Engagement at charity Breast Cancer Care. I'm not a particularly religious person and I don't believe in fate. But I do believe this has all happened for a reason. I want to make a change.

In the last year I have spoken to so many women affected by this disease and although things have definitely improved from 20 years ago, there is so much more that can still be done. Women with secondary breast cancer are still being diagnosed in A&E, facing avoidable delays, not receiving support and - just like Chris - having their concerns ignored by healthcare professionals.

Everyone should get good care as standard, everyone should be treated as a person, not like they are on a treadmill or production line. Whilst there are examples of excellent care and support, for others the system is still letting them down.

Last month was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout the month people hold fantastic pink parties, take part in challenges, and put their spare change in pink buckets and collection tins. For many people, when they put their loose change in a collection tin, do they actually know where it's going to? What good it is doing?

Breast Cancer Care is the only UK-wide charity providing specialist support for anyone affected by breast cancer. All of our services are free and, in everything we do, we combine clinical expertise -from our team of specialist nurses - with the personal experiences of women and men living with breast cancer.

After everything my family have been through, I understand what people affected by this disease are feeling. I've been there. That's why throughout the last year, we have taken our work to the next level.. Last year over two million people accessed our services online and a further one million read our patient information booklets - we're there from day one to support them. Face to face we've helped thousands more manage their health and well being after treatment, when often people need our support the most. Our 'Moving Forward' courses offer a unique package of support to women who have had a primary breast cancer diagnosis and finished their hospital-based treatment.

But we need to do more. 60,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer every year and many tell us they wish they had heard about our services earlier. Our ambition is to help as many of them as possible, so we are looking to double the number of people we support by 2020.

Even though Breast Cancer Awareness Month is over, breast cancer is still affecting so many people every day across the UK. So please, pass on our website, share our Helpline number. Breast Cancer Care is here so no one has to face breast cancer alone.

Call Breast Cancer Care's Helpline free on 0808 800 6000 or visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk for care, support and information from Day One.

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