Ray's story – I was homeless and my cancer was the icing on the cake

Thursday 21 March 2024

Maggie's West London

Ray's prostate cancer was detected in a blood test after having a stroke. He shares how Maggie's helped him find suitable accommodation, as well as a sense of optimism and humour.

In February 2022, I was popping out to see my daughter and grandchildren who live with my wife. I’m separated from her, but we have remained great friends. 

When I arrived, I went to ring the doorbell and as my finger was inches away from the doorbell, I went completely blind. My daughter answered the door and I blurted out that I couldn’t see anything.  

I was in hospital for 10 days, while they gave me a full MOT to find out the cause. 

The tests found that I had had a stroke. I also had a blood test to look at my PSA levels which can indicate prostate cancer.  

My family is rife with cancer on both sides. Both my parents died from lung cancer, far too young. 

When I heard the words ‘you have prostate cancer’, my first thought was ‘I’m finished’.

I would need radiotherapy, every day, for six weeks. 

My oncologist also said ‘there's a bright orange building in the grounds of the hospital called Maggie's, they help people with cancer.’  

I went along, reluctantly. I was scared to talk to people about my illness. In fact, at the time, I didn’t think I would have the treatment.

As soon as I walked through the door, somebody came bouncing over and introduced herself as Mary. She came and sat with me, we had a cup of tea and she told me what Maggie’s does. 

She asked about my situation. I explained that I was living in temporary accommodation and I was thinking about not having treatment. I was just so fed up with everything. 

In the next four months, Maggie’s turned my life around. I will always be so grateful to them. 

My housing situation 

I had a few reasons to think there was no way I was having treatment. The main one was my housing situation. At the time, I was homeless and I lived in temporary accommodation. It was horrendous. 

I’d spend as little time as possible at home because it was not a place I wanted to be in. My mental health had been poor for a long time; I have had depression for many years. My housing situation made it much worse. 

To be honest, cancer was just the icing on the cake. I was homeless, I’d just had a stroke and now I had cancer. I felt like I couldn’t take much more and the treatment was too much to ask.

But after meeting Mary at Maggie’s, I began to change my mind. 

She introduced me to Zoe, a housing and benefits advisor. I told her my situation. She remarked ‘it sounds like a bad film.’ Then, ‘let’s see what we can do’. 

Zoe began contacting the council, my doctors, my hospitals. Within four months of meeting Zoe, I was assessed for sheltered accommodation and two weeks later was offered my house or, as I call it, my palace. 

I’m still pinching myself. 

No one twisted my arm into making my decision to have treatment. Mary made it clear that they were here to support me whatever I did. But talking to Mary and to Zoe over a couple of weeks made me feel relaxed, instead of fearful. It made me feel optimistic and hopeful.

It gave me hope for my housing situation and hope that I might get through the treatment. So I went ahead with it. 

If I hadn’t come to Maggie’s, I think I would still be in the same awful housing situation. Thank God Maggie’s is here. 

Beginning treatment 

I had radiotherapy every day for six weeks and I visited Maggie’s every day. Before treatment, I’d sit in my favourite spot and then afterwards, come back for a cup of tea and to relax. 

It was like popping in to your favourite aunt’s house on your way home from school. It felt rewarding.  

I had a running joke with Mary throughout treatment about ringing the bell. In the treatment units, there is a bell in the corridor people can ring to celebrate having their last treatment. People would come out of their offices and clap when someone rings the bell.  

Mary would always ask me ‘are you going to ring the bell?’, knowing that isn’t my thing. I’d tell her ‘no’, and she would joke ‘well, you have to ring the bell or you can’t come back in here’.  

On the way out of my final treatment, I waited in the corridor until no one was around. I took a video of me, flicking my finger onto the bell so it rang out, just once, very quietly.

I came back in to show Mary that, technically, I rang the bell. It felt really good to laugh and to find humour in Maggie’s. 

Mental health and reflections

My cancer diagnosis was the icing on the cake when life was very difficult to bear. I thought I couldn’t handle anything more going wrong.

Then, I found Maggie’s. I got through my treatment. Now I have my own house. I still can't believe it.

During treatment, there were days I’d think ‘what am I doing? I can’t get through this’. But I’d come into Maggie’s and it would be a boost. 

Now, when I think about the future, I feel happy and optimistic. I wouldn’t change my house for a million pounds.  

When I come into Maggie’s I think ‘this place has done so much for me’, I like to think about what is it going to do for others.  

You see people coming in looking miserable, like I did, and you see them getting a cup of tea. You feel proud that they walked in the door.

You watch them settle in a corner and feel peaceful. You feel that maybe Maggie’s will become their family over time, too.

We’re here for you

Our cancer support specialists, psychologists and benefits advisors are here for everyone with cancer, and all the people who love them.

Come and see us at your nearest Maggie’s, call us on 0300 123 180 or email us at enquiries@maggies.org

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