My wife Christina was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2008. She was 40 at the time and it was a great shock for us. Nothing prepares you for this kind of life changing event.
Our children were quite young (then aged 6 and 4), so our first thoughts were on how and what to tell them. We told them that mum was ill and would get treatment which would make her sick, but which would make her better in the long term. Our focus and priority was to ensure Christina got the best available treatment as soon as possible so that she could get well again quickly.
We immediately spent time researching doctors, via Bupa UK’s finder and other tools, to find the right oncologist and then we contacted Bupa to get started ASAP.
When Christina began her treatment – mastectomy and chemotherapy – what we both needed most was all the non critical hassle out of the way, which there would have been if there had been any complications with work. Fortunately we were both supported by our employer, which meant we could focus on the task in hand; getting on with the treatment.
Christina responded really well and after 18 months she was in remission with no trace left of the cancer – she was healthy again and life went back to normal.
Five years later, almost exactly to the day, Christina felt unwell again and went for a checkup. That’s when we found out the cancer had spread and whilst we still hoped for the best we also knew we had to plan for the worst.
We got some comfort from knowing that Bupa would cover any medically proven treatment even if it’s not available on the NHS. That gave us reassurance that she would get the best possible treatment.
During this time we didn’t need or want much support. For us as a family it was very important that life went on as normally as possible, enjoying life rather than constantly worrying for the future. We kept a rather low profile as one of the things we really wanted to avoid was being made to feel victims by people feeling sorry for us. For us, it was so important to always see the positives in everyday life and enjoy life otherwise it can be very easy to go into a negative spiral of doom and gloom.
Eventually all available treatments had been tried and Christina passed away almost two years ago, seven years after her initial diagnosis. Our children and I are grateful for all the good times we had together, and that she was able to enjoy an active life all the way through, even if it of course was tough while in treatment. She passed away at home with her family around her rather than in a hospital.
When Christina passed away I took three days off work and the kids one day off school. I know we’re quite unusual in that sense, many people need and benefit from longer time to deal with grief. For us getting on with life was our way to deal with grief, and we knew she’d wished for us to get on with life.
What’s your advice for people coping with cancer?
Always make the best of any situation. That applies to everything, not just coping with cancer, but I believe this becomes extra important when you’re going through a life crisis. Focus on things you can do something about, and don’t dwell on things you can’t...
What do you wish people knew about cancer?
It’s easy to get information overload for people starting their cancer journey. You can find an abundance of advice online but the nuggets of information that you really need can be difficult to find. That’s why Bupa’s oncology team is invaluable. They have specialist training and can provide dedicated support to our customers and help them get the right information at the right time based on their individual needs and preferences. Also, early diagnosis is really important, and I am proud to work for Bupa which has recently launched its Cancer Direct Access service to support people when they need it most.
What was the biggest help to you during your journey?
Staying positive and constructive.
It was also vital and helpful to create a sustainable work-life balance. I used to work quite extensive hours and I needed a better balance, so I learnt to be more disciplined with working time so I could leave work in time to meet the children when they came back from school.
I am grateful to work for an employer who supports a work-life balance, and for colleagues who respect my need for using my time effectively.
For more information about cancer visit the Bupa UK health information pages: