Since my husband Patrick died in January this year it’s felt very special to continue his blog. Over the last few months, I’ve shared my experience of grief and the impact of Patrick’s illness and death on our family. There’s no tidy ending with these life changing events but it feels a natural place to stop so this will be the last update to the blog. As I bring the blog to a close I thought I’d share my thoughts on what it’s meant for me, and leave you with Patrick’s Christmas bowel cancer limericks which he wrote in December 2018.
Patrick started this blog after he was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in June 2017. Those early months were a blur as we all faced up to the reality of a terminal diagnosis and adjusted to a life full of uncertainty, endless appointments, chemotherapy, and Patrick’s new stoma. Although the outlook was gloomy, he was determined to enjoy life and make the most of the time he had left. Some loose ideas came together and Patrick posted for the first time on 13 November 2017. It was a step into the unknown but he was a natural. Over the next two years he wrote a moving, honest and humorous account of living with cancer, and I wrote occasionally about the impact his illness had on me. After Patrick died in January, I picked up the story, and our daughter Alice (26) shared her thoughts about losing a parent. This year the blog had nearly 50,000 visitors. Since he died, we’ve been comforted to hear from many people who followed the blog and been particularly moved by stories and messages from those who it helped in some way.
There wasn’t a particular plan. The blog evolved as Patrick found his feet and it followed the twists and turns of the illness. Patrick was clear from the start that he would be open about his experiences and try to demystify cancer and death. He also wanted to use the blog to raise awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer and campaign on some important cancer issues. We’d quickly realised how difficult it is for everyone to know what to say. We too found it hard. When people kindly asked how we were we often replied as we were in that moment when actually it’s much more complicated. We both found it easier to describe the wider sweep of it and the messiness through the blog. Writing the blog was a kind of therapy helping us unscramble and process how we felt about it all. Before cancer I was naturally quite private and sometimes it’s felt a little uncomfortable – we shared some very personal things. But when you’ve been through so much your inhibitions quickly fall away and I don’t think so much about it anymore.
The blog opened doors. Life changing experiences are isolating and it introduced us to an online community of people in the same boat. It was comforting sharing experiences and in meeting kindred spirits we felt less alone. We have also heard from many people who told us how Patrick supported them – despite his illness he always made time for others.
People liked what Patrick was saying and he was soon busy raising awareness of bowel cancer and the many issues faced by patients and those close to them. He spoke at various meetings and conferences, was interviewed on radio and TV, recorded a couple of podcasts, wrote articles and was a prolific tweeter. He knew how easy it would be to retreat into his shell and kept challenging himself – health permitting. It was quite a surprise to discover new skills and interests as Patrick’s life was drawing to a close – we were all so proud and excited about what he was doing.
When we think of our own mortality, I guess we all hope to leave a small mark – something we did which made things a bit better for those we leave behind. Patrick did something truly extraordinary through the blog and all the things that flowed from it. That makes me happy.
The blog has a special place in my heart since Patrick died. As I quietly read his words again, I hear his voice and see that lovely familiar smile. It’s not always an easy read but it’s a nice reminder that we had some happy times too. It’s kept me in touch with lots of the people he met through his illness giving me another way to share memories.
I hope people continue to stumble across the blog but the world turns quickly and I know it will slip deeper into the blogosphere. Others will come along and tell their stories and so the conversation will continue. This absolutely isn’t goodbye – I’ll still be around on twitter and look forward to staying in touch. And I very much hope that in 2021 I will be able to meet up properly with family and friends again – it’s been far too long. But even so I’d like to say thank you to everyone who supported us over the last three years – it helped so much. And for those whose lives are affected by cancer – I send you courage and strength. And now I’ll hand you over to Patrick:
The trouble with Christmas good will
Is that I am rather ill
But I’ll be just fine
With gifts, food and wine
Plus chemo and neuropathy chill.
As the turkeys all head off for slaughter
I got a gift for my wife like I oughta
But it’s such a strain
With my chemo brain
To recall what the f**k I have bought her!
As Santa Claus sets off tonight
His route lit by stars shining bright
With no time to stop
He’d be caught on the hop
With a stoma bag filling with shite!
Bowel cancer this festive season
Gives to me a wonderful reason
To eat a big meal
With a passion and zeal
But with my stoma, no sprouts and no peas on…
As we approach a brand new year
Buoyed by booze and much good cheer
My biggest plans
Are for chemo and scans
And, no doubt more bowel cancer fear!
A mad Christmas spending spree
And presents around the tree
The gift I require
To escape from this mire
Is to be told that I’m cancer free!