The other side of blood cancer: Dan's story
When Bianca was diagnosed with lymphoma, her partner Dan found himself in unfamiliar territory. Challenged to take on new roles and responsibilities, he realised his perspective on life was beginning to change...
I always had a plan. What was going to happen in three, four or five years' time. Where I was going to be, what I was going to do. I suppose I was quite driven and narrow-minded.
But that day in the hospital, as we were told Bianca had lymphoma, that attitude left me. It was gone.
Weeks before, we’d been running the Bath Half Marathon. At about 8 miles Bianca felt really out of breath. I’ll never live it down, but I remember saying at the time, something like “perhaps you just haven’t done enough training?”. But after the race, we noticed a lump on her neck.
When you look back with hindsight, you can see all the little things together, all the warning signs that you didn’t connect – the tiredness, the night sweats – the everyday symptoms you ignore, otherwise you’d be at the doctors all the time.
Fight or flight
I’d describe finding out Bianca had lymphoma as fight or flight, for me. This is what I was faced with. I only had one real option, to fight – to stand by her side.
You don’t really live your life. There’s this massive halt in the road.
I’d planned to go to America for three months. I just thought to myself, well, I can’t go now. My thoughts changed to “what does Bianca need” and “what can I do to make her life easier?”.
It was such a change from the person I’d been before.
Remembering to look after myself
Everything tastes a little bit funny when you have chemotherapy. We had to find things Bianca could eat. I would do all the shopping, all that planning. All these tasks we’d do together, all of a sudden it falls on you.
Bianca was treated in UCLH, and I was very fortunate to have access to psychological support.
It was good to speak to someone who wasn’t just there to tell me everything was going to be ok, because everyone does that.
Those reassuring words from friends and family always come from a good place, and I’d never take them for granted, but it’s not always what you want to hear.
Counselling allowed me to talk about some of my fears and frustrations. I found a support network around me. Knowing there were people able to step in and look after Bianca, meant that one weekend me and my best friend could go to Edinburgh, to just relax without any responsibilities.
Times like that are really important.
Readjusting to life after blood cancer
When life returns to as normal as it can, when the medicine stops, when the treatments stop, when the appointments stop. The expectations from everyone around you, your friends and your work are, “everything’s fine now, let’s go”.
But the adjustment takes a long time.
For someone who likes to think he’s in control, Bianca’s experience with blood cancer was very tough for me to come to terms with. I realised I couldn’t control everything that was going to happen in my life.
But it’s positive. It’s freedom.
Obviously, you should still look to do things better, to strive to be a better person and all that other stuff. But enjoying what you’ve currently got is probably more important than anything else.
I don’t think I had that mindset before.
Advice for anyone supporting someone with blood cancer
Take the time to learn exactly what drugs are needed every week, because there’s lots of them. Ask lots of questions. If you forget, ask again. The people you’re talking to will understand.
If you’re supporting someone with blood cancer, don’t forget to take time out for yourself as well. Find your support network. If you don’t have one, find one, whoever they are.
Be honest with people. It’s going to be tough. It’s okay to have shit days and shit weeks.
Your friends and family will not hate you for it.