Wednesday 29 Jan 2020
This is John and his daughter Aimee. John first visited to Maggie’s Manchester shortly after it opened, when his wife Hannah was being treated for cancer. This is his story.
We found out that Hannah had cancer in 2005. We’d been planning our wedding, and at some point we noticed a hard mass in Hannah’s breast, which we knew we had to get checked out. Hannah had a biopsy, and we were told, the day before our wedding day, that it was cancer.
It’s difficult to describe how that felt. For quite a while, our wedding had been our main focus. It’s such a big day in your life, and you want it to be one of the best. We only told very close family and the wedding party; we didn’t want people’s sympathy on our wedding day, and we wanted everyone to enjoy themselves.
The day before the wedding, we talked about those words ‘in sickness and in health’. I said, “Well tomorrow I’m going to stand in church and make that vow, so you having cancer now doesn’t change anything.”
After our honeymoon, Hannah had surgery and started on a course of treatment that involved chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
When you or someone you love is being treated for cancer you spend a lot of time waiting around in the hospital, in our case at the Christie in Manchester. I don’t remember what we were expecting Maggie’s to be like, but we went along anyway, hoping it would be a place to get away from the clinical nature of the hospital. We’d seen pictures of the building and it looked amazing.
To step inside was quite awe-inspiring, but at the same time there was this homely feeling, as if you were sitting in someone’s living room, talking to friends.
Hannah did a course called Look Good Feel Better, which helped her to look and feel more like her old self; I did a course called Friends and Family, where I met other people whose partners or family members were going through cancer.
The staff, including the Cancer Support Specialists and Robin, the Psychologist, also helped me with the emotional side of things – how to deal mentally with what was happening to Hannah.
Because of Hannah’s treatment we were told we couldn’t have children. But amazingly, seven years after Hannah was first diagnosed, we found out she was pregnant.
We’d always been clear that we weren’t going to let cancer dictate our lives. At the same time, one of my first thoughts was whether it would be safe for Hannah or whether going through pregnancy might make her health worse. But we talked to Hannah’s medical team and they said there was no reason why we shouldn’t go ahead.
Our daughter Aimee arriving was the best thing that ever happened to us. But a bit like our wedding, the day of Aimee’s birth was tinged with sadness. When she was 38 weeks pregnant, Hannah’s femur broke and she collapsed whilst walking down the stairs in her parents house, and after that she was rushed to hospital for an emergency C-section. After Aimee was born, Hannah had an MRI scan that confirmed the cancer had spread to her bones and liver.
We hardly had the chance to take in the emotional impact of that news because we were so focused on getting Hannah well enough to leave hospital and to look after a newborn baby.
Hannah was in hospital for a month, and when she got out she needed physiotherapy to learn to walk again. Being in hospital meant she’d missed out on some of that bonding that every new mum wants to do with their baby. But Hannah and Aimee had an amazing relationship. Aimee is just like her mum – so headstrong and she always knows what she wants. You can’t tell her she’s wrong.
Those milestones – seeing Aimee walk and hearing her talk – became Hannah’s focus and a reason for her to carry on. She desperately wanted to see Aimee start school. In the summer before Aimee was due to start, Hannah managed to make it to a parents’ evening, where she met some of the teachers. Hannah died a couple of weeks after that.
It’s impossible really to describe the feeling of losing the person you love and the mother of your child. Nothing can change what’s happened, but all the support we got – from friends and family, and from Maggie’s – helped us through the most difficult times.
Doing the Friends and Family course at Maggie’s, I met some good friends, and we still meet up and talk on the phone. It was so helpful having that group of people to talk to and who could give you a different perspective on things. It can make a huge difference to have that support from someone who has been through something similar.
With Maggie’s, the support doesn’t end when you stop going to the hospital, and it’s really important to me to know that welcoming place is there whenever me or Aimee need it.
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