If Your Partner Is Diagnosed With Cancer

My wife, let’s call her R, and I are both project managers at heart. So when in the summer of 2013, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, we both went into project mode. When starting any project we need information – what, how,  when, why, where etc. Whilst there was lots of information for the patient, there appeared to be very little for the partner. I wanted a project plan that I could follow and know that I was doing the right things. Guess what – it didn’t exist. Every cancer and patient is different so such a list would be impractical. Instead, based on my experience, here are a few practical tips.


  • Get the facts. Don’t be afraid to question your consultant. He or she will not guarantee a cure. Instead, they will talk about statistics and survival rates. Each treatment will increase the chances of survival but by how much?
  • Take a notebook to all appointments. Write questions beforehand and take notes during. The chances are, for early appointments at least you will be in a state of shock. Much safer to write things down.
    Supplement your knowledge with reliable sources. The MacMillan website has tons of information, as does Breast Cancer For Dummies (I kid you not!). The latter is written by an American so has chapters about the healthcare system that you don’t need but lots of stuff you do.
  • Take the time to talk things through and decide together a communications plan (Told you we were project managers!). Who will you tell? Family, close friends, boss – almost certainly. The world via Facebook or nosey neighbours – maybe not. Better to agree up front. We consciously decided not to go public on Facebook. This effectively meant keeping the news from some friends for several months but we thought that was better than contacting people we see intermittently, just to pass on the news. Again, everybody is different.
  • There will be tears for both of you. They are natural and part of the process. Don’t promise that everything will be OK – you can’t control that. But, if you have asked the right questions and written down the answers you will understand the odds that it will be OK! Julia Fordham wrote “Don’t tell me to stop crying please, just hold me while I do”. That’s your job – get on with it.
  • Think about the practicalities and discuss the situation with your boss. Mine was great, giving me the flexibility to attend appointments etc. but I was careful not to abuse it too much.
    Talk about the support she will need throughout the treatment. Try to find a balance between independence and smothering! I attended all of the consultations so we could both get information. For the surgery phase I was practical support – driving, carrying bags, visiting etc. However, I didn’t attend the Chemo sessions as she wanted to focus on getting through the day (headphones and iPad were essential). The most stressful part of the whole treatment was when a partner of another patient spent the day in the treatment room working on a laptop and constantly taking phone calls. As I said before, everybody is different and this worked for us. I did the driving, dropping off at the door and picking up when she was ready.
  • Pay attention to what the nurses tell you! You may be called upon to change dressings, empty drains etc. It will be a lot less stressful if you watched the demonstrations and don’t appear too cack handed.
  • Cancer treatment - Hats are a great alternative to wigs
    Hats are a great alternative to wigs

    Hair loss is a real possibility with Chemotherapy. Discuss your feelings and offer support. When it started to go, R decided she wanted it to go quickly. On the Sunday morning before her second cycle, I cut it very short for her and used my beard trimmer to get it even. Although upsetting, we both found it therapeutic (taking control) and even ended up having a laugh (probably best to avoid the term slap head if you want things to go well)

  • R tried a wig but only wore it once, finding it uncomfortable and itchy. Instead she ended up with a large collection of soft hats and turbans (www.suburbanturbans.co.uk) that looked great, were comfortable and, over the winter, kept her head warm. She wore a particularly soft, pale blue number in bed which, unfortunately, picked up any stray light, giving a slightly ghostlike appearance in the early hours!
  • Remember, when she asks if she looks OK in the wig, hat or whatever, she is actually saying ‘tell I look fabulous”.
  • Talk about the treatment and agree that you will be resolute. We discussed how difficult the treatments could be but that, come what may, it was the right thing to do. So, when she had a difficult reaction to cycle 4 and wanted to quit, I was ready with the statistics and the reminder of the conversations. She continued the treatment and was relatively OK with the other cycles.
  • R took advantage of professional massages and found them a great help with the discomfort during Chemo. The Haven have several centres in the UK and other services will be available in your area. They also offer counselling for patients and partners.
  • Try to keep physically active. The fitter you both are, the better you will deal with the regime. Once recovered from the worst effects of the Chemo, she decided to walk to and from the hospital for the daily Radiotherapy. The exercise seemed to help, both physically and psychologically. For yourself, never underestimate the number of times you will be making cups of tea etc. Fitness is important!
  • Treatment can be a long slog. Promise yourselves weekends away, nights out etc. between cycles. Set some goals. R entered the Jane Tomlinson 10k and completed it around 16 weeks after completing treatment.
  • Radiotherapy will leave her very tired, probably for several months after completion. Make sure she phases a return to work (and still keep making the cups of tea)

If you are just at the early stages and looking around for help, don’t be afraid to talk. Don’t feel you have to ‘man up’ and hide everything. Counsellors can be recommended by the hospital or your GP and can be very useful. Eighteen months on, life is good. Not the same as it was but definitely good. Stick with it, you will get through it.
Please feel free to leave comments, did you find this useful, do you have other tips etc.


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The new entrance to Leeds Station takes shape

The ambitious project to build a new entrance to the train station in Leeds is taking shape.  The £17.4m project kicked off in December 2013.

Concrete blocks
Concrete blocks arrived in December 2013

The first sign of activity was the arrival of dozens of huge concrete blocks. Part of the area on Granary Wharf was fenced off and we were underway!


Pontoon on river Aire
Part of the pontoon that emerged in the spring

It was a quiet start but, by April, a huge floating pontoon was in place on the River Aire. The pieces are all delivered to an area out towards Asda’s offices, then floated up river to the site at Granary Wharf.

The Dark Arches were built between 1866 and 1869. Cutting into the base of the structure must have been a nervy moment.

Cutting stonework
Cutting into the base of the arches

This was taken in May, by which time, some impressive kit was assembled on the river.

The pontoon is starting to look impressive









Piles driven into the river bed
Piles driven into the river bed

By the end of May, a series of piles for the foundations have been driven into the river bed.

Foundations growing steadily
Foundations growing steadily



As we entered July and Yorkshire focussed on the Tour De France, starting a few hundred yards away, the foundations were growing steadily.

Work continues underwater
Work continues underwater


By the end of the month, work was progressing underwater!




The concrete starts
The concrete starts

Three weeks later, a concrete base has been added to one of the giant supports. A steel cage is then built like a huge meccano set.


Both bases in
Both bases in

This week, almost a year since building started, the two  giant, concrete bases are in place. The project is really taking shape now. More work is going on under the arches but behind closed doors. The project is due to complete next summer. Once open, around 20% of passengers at the country’s second busiest station outside London will use the entrance. I will continue to take photos over the coming months and post again as it nears completion. There is a great time lapse film of the construction here.



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Yoga – try it now in the privacy of your own home

One of the joys of getting older is that, at some point, we all start to       make strange tennis serve style grunts when we sit down or stand up. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, don’t worry, it will. Given the worrying trend that sofas are getting lower (or is that just me?) something has to be done. That something, may just be yoga.

I remember black and white images of impossible yoga positions on tea time telly in the seventies. The idea of that or any kind of organised exercise class sends me running for the hills. As for Lycra – don’t get me started.

Worry not, today we have apps and the privacy of your own living room. My particular instrument of torture is Yoga Studio on iOS. Dozens of lessons are available to download. So far I have only been brave enough to attempt basic stretches but, I have to admit, I can feel the difference. Each lesson is accompanied by a very persuasive, soothing voiceover and on screen directions. Don’t be put off by how easy the lady makes it look – not all of us are that shape. If we were looking at storage options, she would fold down flat and slide into that tiny space in the spare bedroom. I am more of a “shove it in the garage and throw a tarpaulin over it” kind of shape.

The first position was called corpse – not overly sensitive if you are worried that the years are catching up with you – but how hard can lying flat on the floor really be? Turns out it is quite difficult but a loud and satisfying crack of the neck later, things improve. Next up, hug your left knee to your chest. You are kidding! OK, get it as far as possible for now. Repeat with the other leg with similar results but the addition of another loud crack – ouch. Hang on, feels better now, forget the ambulance.

Now she is rising to her task and tells me to sit, legs out front, and curl my back to rest my chin on my legs. Again, extremely elegant pose on the screen, while I look like a sack of spuds has just split and gone off in different directions. Too many years slumping over a computer screen and, frankly, too many pies nudges dignity out of the window. However, I am promised this will improve.

Soon the voice is telling me to lie on my back, reach between my knees and take hold of the outside of my feet for “Happy Baby’. There is obviously some kind of mistake here because my arms are about two feet too short to grab feet (I take solace in believing I have exceptionally long legs that don’t seem to bend in the middle – obviously genetic). A frantic grab for shins is just about good enough but the instruction to relax and feel the benefit of this stretch has me literally rolling around on the floor laughing. Spectator sport this is not. It is probably worth pointing out that it wouldn’t be good for radio either as you can’t rule out the occasional accidental noise!

After fifteen minutes, it is all over and I am hauling myself back to my feet. Don’t tell anybody but, I actually felt better for it. Several sessions in I feel a real benefit and I have even downloaded “beginners strength”. I haven’t used it yet – no point rushing these things.

So, what’s stopping you. Be sensible, all the usual small print about consulting your doctor applies, give it a go – you may just enjoy it. Just remember to close the curtains!

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