Patient Story | Chris's story
We want to say a big thank you to Chris Lewis, author of Chris's Cancer Community - the most popular cancer blog in the UK - for helping us to shine a light on men and cancer. If you're supporting someone with cancer, Chris has some great advice.
How did you find out you had cancer?
I had all the classic symptoms of blood cancer for a long time. Aching, night sweats, absolute exhaustion and a constant cold. But thought I was just overdoing things at work. Finally forced to the doctor by my wife. The delay was down to being a man and not wanting to trouble the Dr. I was stage 4 when I was diagnosed, totally my own fault.
What were your initial thoughts upon receiving your diagnosis?
Very shocked and surprised as I hadn’t even thought about the possibilities of getting cancer. I remember asking the doctor if he had the right file. Nothing bad happens to me! I am always a lucky man, and despite the diagnosis and prognosis I still remain lucky today.
Did you/others feel comfortable speaking openly about your diagnosis or did you/they shy away from it?
Very comfortable speaking about my diagnosis. I wanted everyone to understand exactly what was happening to me. It was important that they were also comfortable talking to me, in the way we had before. Once cancer is diagnosed relationships can change, with people feeling awkward. I didn’t want that and continued to use my humour during that period.
How did your cancer and treatment impact on your day-to-day life? Job, friends, family?
I was self-employed and wanted to continue working for as long as I could. Not just because of finances but I wanted to try and work through chemo, as I felt it was a personal psychological challenge. My treatment started quickly - aggressive chemotherapy every 2 weeks. I had my sessions on a Friday so had the weekend to recover. After 3 months I had to stop work as I had become too weak.
Having seen me so fit during my life it was hard for family and friends to understand how ill I was. Particularly my wife who refused to believe that I could die quickly. But eventually we discussed it with my sons, but I didn’t want any sadness at all.
What helped you through your diagnosis and treatment?
Undoubtedly the support of my wife, family and friends. They have seen my very darkest times and frustrations of losing reliable health. I have survived a lot longer than expected but that has come with its problems as my body deteriorates and requires more maintenance. My life is quite restricted but their support helps me make the best of things.
Is there anything you wish people around you could have done more of but you didn't necessarily feel comfortable asking them to do?
Absolutely not! As I mentioned previously, I always maintained very open communication. If I needed anything I just had to ask. My clinical team were incredible too. Everyone understood my frustrations, as I am an independent man and hated relying on others.
Do you have any advice for friends/carers/helpers/family to help them support someone going through treatment?
Indeed! I think the main thing is that we don’t want to change from being who we are, to ‘that person with cancer.’ We want people to be the same around us as they were before our diagnosis. The last thing we require is people feeling sorry for us. We want to keep things as normal as possible. If you find it difficult, say so. Most importantly don’t be distant. I have seen many relationships break down because people say nothing because they are worried about saying the wrong thing.
Were there any specific products you used that could help others?
Sherbet lemons to help remove that terrible chemo taste!
Do you have any hints or tips that could help others?
I have 2 tips which I found from my own experience. The first was learn to be patient, which I found extremely difficult. I came from a very fast-moving business into the NHS as a long-term patient. The transition was difficult but I eventually learned that very little runs on time and nothing is straight forward. Allowing at least twice the time that was talked about worked well.
Secondly don’t compare yourself with anyone else. Everyone is unique and even those with the same treatment and disease will probably produce different results at different speeds. You are you, and be proud of that!
Are there any resources, organisations, information, social media accounts, podcasts etc. that you think might be of particular interest to other men going through cancer?
Social media has proved to be a fantastic resource for me. Both giving and receiving support. But it may not be for everyone. Normally the best place to start are the official charities covering your disease. They are safe and not frightening, with decent information. All platforms are used in a different way, but Twitter is my personal favourite. There are some incredible people working there who have experience of all tumour types. They give their time and experience freely.
How has your experience changed your outlook on life and plans for the future?
My cancer experience has entirely changed my life and my family’s. My plan was to retire and do a lot more travelling with my wife. But unfortunately, I need to be around the hospital now for frequent treatment and check-ups.
But cancer gives as well as taking! I have learned so much about the complexities of cancer that I am now a well-known international writer and speaker. My involvement ranges from expert clinicians, patients and Health Care Professionals. I am now able to run my own website and communicate daily through numerous social-media channels.
Helping others affected by cancer is now my life hoping to leave the sector in a better place than I found it!
Chris runs the fab website, Chris's Cancer Community, https://www.chris-cancercommunity.com/ where he campaigns to help improve the cancer healthcare system. Chris can also be found on Twitter @christheeagle1 and Facebook @chriscancersupport and Instagram @christheeagle.