In June 2012 my husband Fred was diagnosed with transitional cell carcinoma of the kidney. 18 months later, aged just 61, he passed away. We shared so much together. This is our final story.
Fred wasn’t just my husband, he was my best friend. He was a wonderful father, brother, uncle and friend to many. A builder, he had been very physically active his whole life. He loved speed skating, cycling and watching ice hockey and of course being Dad to our two children Ben and Cassy. He was truly a man of many talents; he’d been a science teacher for 15 years before exploring his passion for carpentry and starting his own building business. Sensitive too, he enjoyed writing poetry and sharing his favourite poems on his own website.
Over Christmas in 2011, Fred developed a cough that wouldn’t go away. He’d been working very hard running the business but this tiredness went beyond simply being busy. After spending most of Christmas in bed he had a lung scan which was negative but a blood test showed he had whooping cough. The cough never got better so his sister, a doctor, arranged a visit to a lung specialist and then a cardiologist where an abnormal heartbeat was discovered.
Just before he was due to start warfarin to restore his regular heart rhythm a lymph node in his neck enlarged and a biopsy showed renal carcinoma cells. His irregular heartbeat had been due to the enlarged lymph node.
Life changed in the blink of an eye. We cancelled a planned holiday and our son took over the business. Understandably Ben wanted to spend time with his father so he moved back home and the business was wound down.
Fred wasn’t a quitter; he never gave up his battle. The disease relentlessly took over his body but he remained mentally focused and never wallowed in self-pity. He always got back up after every setback. He was a hero to us in every way.
I was 59 when Fred died, two months from retiring. I’d been a science teacher my entire career but I was looking forward to our retirement together, full of plans for our new chapter.
Suddenly we lived a shockingly different life, now full of hospital appointments, scans, blood tests, chemotherapy and emergency trips to hospital. It was all consuming. Honestly, neither of us thought the cancer would beat him.
In a short space of time Fred went from being a strong, active person who was never sick to being a shadow of his former self. His own father passed away six months before Fred and watching him deliver the eulogy when he was so ill himself was heartbreaking.
Apart from his last 17 days, Fred spent the last three months of his life in hospital due to a bowel obstruction, which he hated.
Even with our backgrounds in science we both found the multitude of information confusing. The Internet proved both a help and hindrance, as we were never sure where to look and what was relevant to Fred. Eventually he found someone to talk to – the wife of his hairdresser who had recently been diagnosed with lymphoma. Being able to share their experiences was a great help to them both.
As a family we needed to help Fred in any and every way we could. I researched lots about nutrition and his sister came to all our oncology appointments. She helped us immensely, acting almost as an interpreter with the medical information and decisions on treatments including some we didn’t know about. Just as importantly she shared all the highs and lows and became our rock. She opened her home to us in Fred’s last days and helped me with his care. Her support was invaluable; I don’t know what we would have done without her.
If I was to offer any advice it would be to explore all the options and do what you feel is right and relevant for you. Communicate with other people, especially those with the same type of cancer, in a Facebook like way, connecting as friends. This is where the CancerAid app will be invaluable as well as reliable recommendations on accurate treatments, options and advice and tracking test results and of the physical and emotional journey.
Anything that can streamline the enormous amount of information in a user friendly and interesting way would be amazing. Fred would have been able to use this much more than random internet searches.
Even heroes need heroes. Fred was able to share his journey in his final months with another Hero but if he’d been able to connect with others in his situation sooner it would have helped him enormously and made him feel so much less isolated knowing he wasn’t the only one, as well as making him feel valuable if his story helped others, improving his sense of self-worth at a time he felt he had so little to give.
The hard part for me now is not having that special person to make plans with ever again. I am struggling to come to terms with life after Fred, he was my Hero, and I was his Champion.
From one Champion to another, don’t put off that trip, be with your loved one as much as possible and live every day in the present.