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Cancer: The life changing diagnosis


Life often presents us with unforeseen challenges that test the very fabric of our resilience. Among these trials, few are as emotionally and physically demanding as the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, such as cancer. In today’s article, we have the privilege of inviting a guest writer, Colin.

Colin shares his account of his mother's courageous battle with cancer. He will be talking about one of the most challenging moments, often overlooked: The diagnosis.


The life changing diagnosis

Mum became unwell over the latter half of 2012. Every November, mum and my godmother would always come to watch the tennis at The Millennium Dome. I remember I took a day off work to spend with them and mum was not eating much at all. By Xmas 2012 it is fair to say, mum was not herself and she was often tired and upon reflection, I don’t think she ever finished an entire meal over the festive period.

Mum never really had a great stomach nor did she ever have a great appetite. So, initially when mum displayed some of the symptoms of stomach cancer none of us thought anything about it.

Stomach cancer is hard to diagnose, the symptoms are the same as so many other conditions that are less serious. It often doesn’t display any symptoms at all in the early stages (the stage that a cancer needs to be caught in for best chance of recovery).

On Friday 25th January 2013, I found out that mum had cancer and it must be one of the worst days in my life. I remember clearly having a terrible day at work, and out of the blue, I received an e-mail at work from my Dad (which itself was unusual) asking me to call him urgently.Dad told me that Mum had been diagnosed with stomach cancer.

I couldn’t process it. I didn’t react, I felt completely numb.

Cancer was something that seemed to happen to other people.

I somehow struggled through the rest of the day but all I could think about was that Mum had cancer.

After speaking to mum and hearing about her future treatment plans reality suddenly hit me. There is something about hearing your loved one saying their diagnosis out loud…

I was shocked and felt like an express train had hit me at full speed.

I always took it for granted that my mum and dad would be around and healthy; this whole gentle assumption was being stolen from me.

For the first time in my life I felt like a grown up and having to face up to reality.

I could feel the sense of pain, hopelessness and loss building inside me and I couldn’t contain it. I never felt so alone in all my life. I walked into my best friend’s room, I told him Mum has been diagnosed with cancer and I broke down. The emotion just poured out of me and I howled in grief and sadness.

And yet….

My best friend (Pilko) came and comforted me (he had lost his Mum when we were at university so he was able to empathise). I went from feeling alone to having a friend who knew what I was going through. Someone had my back in this and it was a wonderful relief.

One of the things that stood out the most to me from my friends' advice was to look after my dad and brother (and of course my mum). The diagnosis is hard and shocking for the patient and the family.

I spoke to my brother the next day and thanks to Pilko’s advice I felt I was able to help a little.

Mum was diagnosed a few weeks before my birthday. During my birthday party I started to share the news with my friends and it surprisingly felt better. My friends were wonderfully kind and supportive. I realised how lucky I was.

I got a chef’s hat and apron as a birthday gift. I put this on and everyone burst out laughing (especially as I was dressed in my work suit at the time). I looked very silly! I shared the photo with mum and she found it hysterical.

I guess what I learned from the initial diagnosis was:

  • The shock can feel overwhelming and the initial surge of emotions is very powerful. It is OK to let them out.

  • I found talking with friends helpful. I found it an enormous sense of comfort knowing that people cared and that I wasn’t alone. Be with friends and spend time with them, even if you don’t say much and just want the company. Cancer affects not just the patient but their loved ones too. Having that circle of friends makes it much easier to support your loved one with cancer.

  • Having small things to focus on helps you make a positive different and helps ease the feeling of helplessness. Whether it be supporting other family members or friends or having a distraction.

  • I know it can be hard but keeping a sense of humour is important. It is easier said than done at this stage but as the cancer progresses this has help ease the pain as we will see.

Thank you for reading, Colin.

 💡Would you like to share your story? Send me a note on [email protected] 

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