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'Our relationship survived cancer'
I think that having cancer did have an impact on my relationship with my wife, Susie, initially. Mainly that, after my diagnosis, I wondered how much time I might have left, and worried about my ability to focus on anyone else whilst I went through all this treatment. And to be honest, I didn’t really think too much about our relationship. I was spending all my energy trying to get well, trying to survive, and so I guess I had to be selfish in that moment.
I can remember vividly being told, on May 1, 2016, that I’d got Stage 4 throat and neck cancer and thinking, ‘Oh god, this is not good.’ As the words came out of the oncologist’s mouth, I was mentally trying to push them back in because all I could think was, ‘No, no, not me, he can’t be talking about me.’ However, the more he spoke, the realization dawned that there was nobody behind me, and it was indeed my diagnosis. Susie was with me, sitting on the end of the bed, trying not to get tearful as she clearly wanted to be strong and supportive for me.
Telling my kids was really hard
I realized almost immediately, due to the advanced stage of the cancer, that the first thing I needed to do was tell our two children, Morgan, and Spencer, then aged 20 and 15. I worried about how I was going to break such bad news to them, but decided I would be very straight and direct. I told them that I’d got a throat and neck cancer, that bad karma had come my way. I said I intended to be selfish about it, in that I wanted them to continue with their studies, because I didn’t want to have to worry about them as well as myself. I needed to completely focus on getting better and I wanted them to help me by carrying on with their lives as much as possible. Morgan was at university at that point and the last thing I wanted was for his studies to be derailed.
And then I went through many, many weeks of grueling chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Unfortunately, I had to take the drugs in the highest possible doses to give me the best chance of being cured, so I felt desperately ill most of the time. It was brutal.
Our relationship grew stronger
But I do think my relationship with Susie survived all that quite well. We’re still together anyway! It was a huge amount of stress for both of us, but I think she bore most of it. Of course, we worried about each other, but as time went on, I started to get an angle on the whole thing. I decided that I wasn’t going anywhere and that things would soon improve. As I started to recover, so my relationship with her started to grow stronger. It certainly wasn’t any worse than it had been before I’d had cancer.
We do look back now at what happened to us and shudder. I never wanted to go through anything like that, and I wouldn’t want anyone else to either. We tried not to allow what happened to put a strain on our relationship and made sure that no blame was apportioned. We had been together for a long time prior to my diagnosis, so we’d learnt how to communicate well by that point. Well, as much as any couple does!
Susie, as well, is an understanding kind of person, she’s always had time to listen to people, give them a chance to talk and express themselves, and she gave me plenty of time to do that. I felt able to talk to her about how I was feeling, despite being in a bad place. And I wasn’t sure where my life was going to go, or whether the cancer would come back, which was always at the back of my mind. Susie was really loving and caring throughout.
I don't need a lot of friends
Also, we had a lot of support from friends around us. Not family because they all lived hundreds of miles away. Friends helped in a very practical sense, dropping in to see me in hospital if Susie couldn’t make it. I never felt as if I was on my own and it was a weight off my shoulders to know that she had people around giving her help and support.
I’m not sure if I lost any friends because I’m not the sort of person who develops a lot of long, meaningful relationships anyway, it’s just the way I am. Susie seems to have hundreds of friends, but two or three is enough for me. And the ones I do have seem to have been through similar situations. Not necessarily cancer, but a close friend of mine had a serious illness and died twice on the operating table, so we often talk about our experiences. We do discuss how lucky we were to have partners behind us to help us get through those difficult times.
So, my relationship with Susie is stronger than ever. And we’ve been together a not insignificant length of time – thirty-six years! It’s a hell of a long time and we still get up in the morning and have a good laugh. Of course, not everything runs smoothly, but I don’t think me having cancer had any major impact on our relationship. The only area it has influenced is our social life, as I find it difficult to go out for meals. My treatment has left me with problems swallowing and it takes me a long time to eat.
Communicating as a family
I think as time has gone on, and I’m seven years clear of cancer now, that things have returned to some sort of normality, and we all worry less. The boys probably talked more to Susie than they did to me, all of us just being stereotypical men I suppose but we communicate reasonably well as a family. I really wanted to return to a normal family life, not to focus on negative things. I guess I wanted it to almost be as if nothing had ever happened, even though we know it did. These things can bring you closer – we pulled together and became an even stronger family unit.
So, I managed to get through all that, still to be confronted by the trials and tribulations of life! I’ve currently got a broken collarbone after falling off my bike and have just recovered from shingles. Thinking you’re never going to worry about the little things any more doesn’t last, you obviously do. I still live every day with the debt and bills, they’re not going to go away. But that’s part of getting back to normality, and that’s what I wanted.
Tony and Susie have been together for 36 years, married for six. They live in Stoke Newington, North London, with their son, Spencer. Tony was diagnosed in 2016 with Stage 4 throat and neck cancer and had chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In a separate story, Susie will tell her side of the story.
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