My story starts with an ending. In the early hours of a Wednesday morning, in late July 2013, the phone rang and it was the duty Staff Nurse on the Fortuneswell Ward at Dorchester Hospital to say that Sylvia, my wife, partner and best friend of over 30 years was slipping away. I arrived at about 02.00 and she died peacefully, in the care of the wonderful staff, a couple of hours later.
For us this cancer journey had come out of nowhere. Both Sylvia and I had enjoyed good health over all the preceding years. In the autumn of 2012, just after our son Jamie’s wedding to Claire, a superb day, Sylvia began to feel unwell. After a few alternative possibilities our caring GP said “I cannot rule out cancer”. After the usual battery of tests and examinations it was confirmed that cancer had taken hold and the prognosis was very poor. Just before Christmas the life outlook was for between two and twelve months and the decision had to be made about whether chemotherapy, with its potential side effects, was the option to take. I wavered but Sylvia was a robust person and said “if I don’t do it, it’s like giving up and then there is no chance”.
Christmas was very difficult, a visit from the palliative care team on Christmas Eve and talk of a disability parking permit reinforced the negative. However Sylvia was stoical and we got through it and enjoyed the bright sunshine at West Bay, on the morning of Christmas Day.
At the beginning of the New Year she started chemotherapy and almost immediately seemed to improve, albeit the words of the consultant that, “this cancer will come back to bite you” was an ever present elephant in the cupboard.
Sylvia was by now an active member of The Living Tree from which she gained tremendous support and friendship. As a private person she found the openness and honesty within the group uplifting. Sylvia asked me to be a trustee of the group.
It has been and continues to be a privilege for me to be a trustee and to help it reach out to those who have, or are affected by cancer. As you can tell from this brief story I fall into the latter category but the comments about support and friendship hold true for me as well.
We were able to take a week’s holiday on the Kennet and Avon canal (we had many holidays afloat in the past) with Sylvia able to resume her role as captain whilst I did the manual lock work. We walked the coast path and the Beaminster hills, albeit slowly. Then on a trip to southern France in July, to see friends who were renting a gite, Sylvia become increasingly weak and we returned urgently to Dorchester Hospital for treatment. Sylvia spent her last few days at home before being suddenly admitted, passing away only a few hours later.
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen