Stu lives near Cardiff with his wife, Beth, and works as a business and IT consultant. In 2015 their lives changed when Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now he volunteers with Breast Cancer Care, sharing his experience with others whose partners have been diagnosed.
I felt completely unprepared
The consultant then called Beth back earlier than planned. We knew what was coming, yet I felt completely unprepared. I remember that whole weekend awaiting the appointment, both of us were so tearful and shell-shocked.
I wanted to fight it for her
Beth was initially diagnosed with an oestrogen receptor positive (ER+) lump, but this turned out to be hiding another smaller lump.
I didn’t really know what I could do to help, except to talk about it, to try and make sense of the situation and to be strong by her side. We are best friends and openly discussed what was to come and how we were feeling.
I tried to do as much as possible, whether it be simple things like doing the washing, cleaning the house and cooking the food she felt she needed.
Hearing my cousin’s experience helped us prepare
One of the first things we did after Beth was diagnosed was get in touch with my cousin and his wife, who had been through breast cancer seven years before. Although we knew a lot had probably changed in that time, it was extremely helpful, and they both supported each of us through a lot of the initial shock.
Since then we’ve become much closer than we ever used to be.
I needed to find some control
I wanted to know as much as possible. Researching on the web can be scary though, and there was so much out there, so I stuck to Breast Cancer Care’s website and the Forum, and my cousin helped guide me.
I felt more in control the more I read and understood. Beth’s breast care nurse was also amazing, and I phoned her a few times when we were confused about test results or what was happening with Beth’s treatment.
We lived in three-week cycles
At first I found it quite hard to be flexible and to take each week as it came. However, reading and researching helped.
Beth started on FEC chemotherapy and was supposed to move onto docetaxel, but after one round she had a nasty reaction in her hands, which went blotchy and red. If you put your hand an inch above her palms you could feel the heat. It’s such a shock – you read all the side effects and don’t know which might happen, but it still can’t really prepare you for when one does happen.
After this she went back to FEC, and by the fifth and sixth round we knew a little more about what to expect.
After treatment ended we felt lost
It felt strange when Beth’s active treatment ended, as we’d been living in three-week cycles and with the regularity of so many appointments. Suddenly these disappeared.
We both knew that life would not be normal ever again after the diagnosis but now was the first time we realised how different it would be.
It was difficult not really being told that the cancer has gone, although you can only guess that it has. But you always wonder, what could happen? It’s a hard adjustment to make.
Talking is vital
We both wanted to give back as much as possible. I ran the London Marathon this year for Breast Cancer Care, raising £3,200, which I was so humbled by. Now I speak to others whose partners have been diagnosed as a volunteer on the Someone Like Me service.
Sharing experience seems to help people most. It’s also good for me to understand what they went through, and realise it’s so similar to us. I think by sharing what we did and how we coped can help others do the same or think about different options and what’s best for them.
Empathy is the most important thing – listening and sharing those experiences.
Stu’s three recommendations if your partner has been diagnosed
- Read through everything you can about the diagnosis and treatments, the smallest findings can help. Having said this, be careful not to read the horror stories. That’s why we found Breast Cancer Care helpful as it was accurate, real information.
- Talk, talk, talk. Talk to family, to friends. It doesn’t matter who. Your close network will step up. Having a dark day is not negative, it is part of the rubbish hand you are dealt. It’s how you remain strong over the long term.
- Get active, if possible. Being fitter is only going to help you. Beth was lucky as we had a treadmill so on days that she did not want to go outside, walking on the treadmill was part of the daily routine. We both believed that helped as it made it easier to recover and fight day after day.
Find out more about becoming a Breast Cancer Care volunteer and how you can give support to others facing breast cancer.