Saturday 15 Jul 2023
When Colton's wife, Amanda, died a year after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Colton was worried about how to help his teenage daughter, Saffron, as well as grieving himself. Talking to a Maggie's psychologist helped him to feel less overwhelmed.
I met my wife, Amanda, in 1995. She ran a sandwich shop with her mum. My friend lived over the road from the shop, and I used to go to see him regularly.
One day, I nipped over to get a sandwich, and I met Amanda in the shop. We just talked. But from then on, as much as I could, I used to nip to my friend’s more regularly, and every time, I’d go to the shop to see Amanda. It went from there.
Within a few years, we had bought a house together, got married in Cyprus, and then had a child.
I always said that if we had a girl we would name her after the shop. So when our daughter was born in 2004, that’s what we did – we called her Saffron.
Amanda and I went to work in different areas: she started working in the police, and I worked with National Rail.
We raised Saffron together at home, each taking different areas.
For me, I’d take Saffron to football and netball each week, so we had this real father-daughter sporting bond. But I knew that Saffron was her also her mother’s daughter, a mummy’s girl, and there were some areas, particularly the emotional side of things, that they dealt with best together.
Amanda was diagnosed in March 2018. She lived with ovarian cancer for a year.
During Amanda’s illness, we talked about what we could with Saffron, but we didn’t really look too far ahead.
We just wanted to live each day, to be honest, because we knew something would happen. Saff knew her mummy was ill with cancer, but we didn’t discuss how long we had.
My focus was on us trying and being happy.
I remember how we used to go up to St James’s Hospital, for the chemotherapy, various operations, and tests.
We regularly walked past Maggie’s, and watched over time as it was being built.
Initially it was just a wasteland, a bit of rubble, but we saw it coming together over time. But my wife and I never got to go in.
Amanda passed away in March 2019, 12 months after her diagnosis. Saffron was 15 at the time.
I had an appointment at the hospital later on that year, and I saw that the centre was open. I went in, and it was very welcoming.
They didn’t ask too many questions, they just said, ‘Come in, make yourself a cup of tea’.
And I just sat there, just reflecting really, on everything that had happened. I started crying, because I just felt really sad. Sad and lonely, to be honest.
Helen came over and sat with me, and asked if I wanted to speak to someone. That started the ball rolling for me.
Within a few weeks, I had an appointment with one of the psychologists, Emma. Talking to Emma was difficult to begin with. I knew I needed someone to talk to, but I didn’t really know what was going on in my head.
I was just worried about Saffron, and upset that my wife had passed away. I couldn’t see a way out of being upset.
That first session helped so much. I felt lifted when I spoke to her, that someone was talking to me about things, about my wife and how I felt.
I initially thought one session was all I needed, but I realised more would help.
I always worried if Saffron was upset about losing her mum, and how I would be able to manage when she was. Because really, deep down, as long as she was ok, I was ok.
I think, to be honest, at times I struggled to understand my daughter. There’s definitely a whole world with teenage girls that I didn’t feel I could get. And it’s difficult, really difficult, sitting down and talking about these things, and trying to understand what she’s thinking.
At times it seemed that Saffron was less affected by it than me. I almost felt that she was stronger than me.
But I also knew Saffron always more of a mummy’s girl. We had this sporting bond, but the emotional side of things was with her mum, and I struggled to manage that, because I’ve never really done it, to be honest, but I really wanted to help.
Emma brought a sort of calmness to me where, instead of panicking, suffocating sometimes, I just felt I could breathe a lot easier. I learned how to manage it and recognise the ups and downs; I had someone who could listen, give some answers.
It’s really weird, because the more sessions I had with Emma, the more I felt like this weight was lifted off me.
She helped me to understand what I was going through. She gave me a way of understanding the different cycles of grief, and helped talk to me about growing the relationship with my daughter.
At time I was quite panicky, my breathing would be affected, and I’d almost feel like I was suffocating. I had all sorts of things running through my head.
I started to see my bond with Saffron grow closer.
Those sessions gave me the confidence to ask Saffron personal stuff, stuff which I probably would’ve been embarrassed to ask before, but I can do that now and it’s ok, and I feel ok doing it, and my daughter’s ok with me asking her things.
But I realised I maybe just needed to ease back a bit, and not get too stressed about certain areas.
I’ve learnt to ask her what she wants, and we’ve found ways of making joint decisions. I’ll run things by her, like ‘What do you think of this or that?’. I’ve grown in confidence to get a bit closer to her.
I said to Emma at our last session, I was just so happy that I met her.
And I never mentioned this to her, but the building is built in such a way as it’s not imposing. A lot of buildings can overwhelm you, in a sense, but in Maggie’s, there are no hard lines, no sharp angles, everything just flows.
You know when you go into a house and it just feels warm? It’s like walking into a room where you know you’re going to be ok.
When that final session was concluded, Emma said that we’re still here for you, and that even though you’re not having the ones-to-ones, all you’ve got to do is pick up the phone. Which left me feeling in a good place, to be honest.
There are areas where it’s still difficult, to be honest, especially when it comes to talking about Amanda.
I know that I would like to talk to Saffron about her mum, but I think we manage in our own way. We have little snippets, I will say ‘Oh, mummy would’ve done that’, ‘Mummy would be proud of you’.
Particularly when she got her good results for GCSEs - A-stars, A’s and B’s. And I said, ‘Oh, mummy would be really proud of you, well done’. Every time it’s her birthday or Christmas, I always sign the cards ‘From Daddy and Mummy’. Everything, it’s from us both.
Now I’m more open to Saff about how I’m feeling and I’m more accepting. And it’s led to new things for us both.
For instance, we go shopping together, and do the food shopping together when we can. We’ve started making those decisions together, deciding what we want, and listening to each other. We’ve definitely got our food shopping sorted – every night it’s our own meals, other than Thursday – which is takeaway night.
So that’s me and Saff. We want to take Amanda’s ashes to Cyprus at some point, which we’ll do with family. I like to go on walks, to the gym. Saffron’s in sixth form, and always got her head buried in a book at some point. She seems to be doing ok. But we still always do Thursday night takeaways.
It’s quite ironic really, because now the sandwich shop which Amanda used to run when it was called Saffron, has been turned into an Italian restaurant called Culto. So every Thursday, when we have our takeaway, that’s where we go to, Culto.
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