A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
This is a guest post by Michael Adams
Michael’s wife, Helen, died on 1st March 2013 after a brave battle with breast cancer leaving behind a loving, dedicated husband and two gorgeous children.
My wife, Helen, and I met in April 2006. Once we became an item there was no stopping us. We moved in together later that year and got engaged in December. We married in July 2007 and our first baby was born a year later. We were happy, just starting our lives together, in love and life was perfect. Then in 2009, just a few days after our daughter’s first birthday and three months pregnant with our second child, our lives were to change forever. Helen was diagnosed with breast cancer. Initially there were doubts about the pregnancy but after some proactive work liaising with the right professionals, Helen underwent surgery and four bouts of chemotherapy before delivering our beautiful baby boy, Marley. Helen then went on to have four further, and much stronger, chemo treatments plus Herceptin and radiotherapy. The side effects of the treatment hit Helen hard and, what with a new baby and a toddler, I reduced my hours at work to part time to look after them all.
Eighteen months went by while we started to rebuild our lives and bring up our two small children. We thought we had seen the last of cancer but we knew there was always that possibility that it would return. But we knew how lucky we were to have our family and so we lived life to the fullest. Then at the end of 2011 the cancer did return – Helen had a small re-occurrence, which was dealt with by surgery. Oncologists and surgeons didn’t seem overly concerned.
In April 2012 Helen had another biopsy, which was found to be cancerous. Deciding to get to the bottom of these occurrences, and with the will to get the best treatment possible, we made a few trips to London to see one of the UK’s leading breast cancer specialists. After a number of scans the worst was to come – the cancer had spread to the lungs, bones, brain and liver. This then sparked off the biggest battle of all.Helen was treated with numerous types of chemotherapy in an attempt to shrink the cancer plus countless other treatments to help manage the side effects. The treatments were quite frankly barbaric and in themselves almost drew out the life from Helen. Her whole body changed and I was left to become her carer and counsellor as both the treatment and cancer sapped her energy. I also had to somehow deal with my own thoughts and emotions as I watched parts of my wife slowly disappear.
Towards the end I knew my wife’s fate and I had to start the process of helping her come to terms with what was to come. I focused Helen on what she had achieved rather than what she was going to lose. All she ever wanted was to be a mum and have a happy family. Obviously losing that is hard, but she realised in the end that she had achieved what she had always wanted and that was better than not having it at all. Although initially the cancers did shrink and stabilise they became too aggressive and sadly on 1st March 2013 that horrible disease took her away from us.
A terrible story, but one with a difference. We both had an amazing drive to ensure we still had a happy life. We knew we couldn’t control the cancer but we were not about to let it control how we lived our lives. We would not let it bring us down. Helen was a tower of strength through the whole journey and we both remained positive and optimistic throughout. Yes of course there were times of despair but we always turned them around and were able to find something to laugh about. In fact through the three-and-a-half years of our cancer journey all I can really remember is happiness and laughter. We laughed and smiled in its face and we lived our lives as much as we could. There was always hope for another day.
Even though I personally remained positive and strong for Helen, I had to watch in agony as the cancer slowly took away my beautifully wife, soul mate and best friend. I am now left as a widower and single parent trying to come to terms with the what happened through the three-and-a-half years since diagnoses and now life without her. I have continued our positive mind set and try to focus my thoughts on how great the seven years we had together were rather than the fact that we only had those seven. I figure that even if I had 50 years with her, would I want that to end? The answer would always be no. We never chose for Helen to get cancer and for it to take her away and it was no one’s fault. I also realise that my children and I deserve a good, happy life because my wife suffered enough and she would never want that suffering to continue unnecessarily.
So just over five months has passed since my wife passed and life has been hard. An emotional roller coaster is an understatement from telling the kids, organising the funeral to just quite simply living my life on my own. Life has changed so dramatically. The cancer cloud has lifted from my life, which is an amazingly free feeling, although the price I had to pay for that was the loss of my wife. My positive mind set is tested every day.
Everything I do in life I have to do without my wife, which is a constant reminder of what I have lost and that is hard to swallow.To help myself get through my own grief I became immersed in the world of a widower. I figured only people with similar experiences would know how I was really feeling and would be able to answer some of the questions I had. I joined The WAY (Widowed and Young) Foundation and subsequently joined their private Facebook page, which has nearly 1,000 members. A thousand people like me. It has been a huge help because its somewhere I can ask the questions that I wouldn’t want to discuss with my family and friends. I knew they would understand the questions without judging me and also give their own take on the answers. I connected with many people and realised there were some real people with some real struggles. I found myself compelled to help them. My positive mind set and passion for a happy life actually is helping me and others too. I decided I could make a difference.
The immense urge to somehow help people by bringing our story to them – and more importantly the optimism, strength and positivity we lived by – became overwhelming and I decided to create a blog. One with some answers but also about how I have dealt with being a carer, widower, single parent etc. My aim was simple: I wanted to help just one person, which it achieved very quickly. From there I wanted to give people my account of how I dealt with certain situation about grief and loss; inspire not only bereaved people, but just anyone who is facing difficulty; and somehow impress my positivity on them to help them through.
Helen and I laughed and smiled in the face of adversity which in turn enabled us to still have a happy life even though life was hard. Life does go one after such a major setback and as I rebuild my life I am hoping to help others too.
The link to my blog is www.clearlypositive.co.uk.