Denise Cresswell, 61 from Ilfracombe, got married to her husband Tim whilst he was treated for stage 4 bowel cancer. She shares with us how she looked after her mental health whilst caring for Tim.
It was when Tim was in hospital recovering from his operation that he asked me to marry him. We’ve been together for 13 years, he was the Sky engineer that fixed my TV. I was doing the ironing and we got chatting about films, I put the kettle on and he asked me if I wanted to go for a drink. The rest is history as they say.
Tim’s diagnosis was quite slow. He has had Ulcerative Colitis since 1999 and that masked the symptoms of bowel cancer. There was a lot of toing and froing to the GP, it was a scary and anxious time. He finally got referred for a colonoscopy, after the procedure we went into a side room and he was told that he had bowel cancer. I went to pieces, I was sick and left the room – the nurse came for me. Tim just sat there. He took the news better than I did.
I went back in with the nurse, and the consultant explained the process and treatment. We just had to go through the motions. I had a lot of support, one of my sisters was always there for me. I would often phone her and we would cry together. It was really good. We’ve got six children between us, they helped a lot and they always checked in on me too. I always think what it must be like if you haven’t got a big family network. It must be so hard.
As part of Tim’s treatment, he stayed in two different hospitals. Four weeks at the North Devon District Hospital (NNDH) in Barnstaple and a further four weeks at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, where he had his major operation. I stayed with Tim in a small bed beside his for several nights whilst he was in the NDDH, this allowed me more time to get involved with his care.
They even taught me how to give Tim his injections into his stomach, this was for a few days whilst on a short weekend stay at home between hospitals. I felt the more I got involved in his care the better I dealt with the situation.
I went to work and although my colleagues were lovely, they asked so many questions about Tim. I just wanted them to leave me alone.
Me and Tim would often cry together, we made a point of always talking to each other about how we felt. We weren’t afraid of opening up to each other about how scared we were. Don’t be so strong that you don’t talk to your partner. Tim said to me once that both of us have cancer – we’re going through it together. The day he was diagnosed completely changed both our lives.
Sometimes he would get short with me, but often we get angry at the ones that love us the most. It’s upsetting at the time, but you get through it the best you can. I remember telling Tim that I felt so useless, but he reassured me that he couldn’t get through the treatment without me by his side. He’s doing it for both of us, for our future together.
At times I feel like I’m in bubble. I over think and I’m always asking why Tim? He hasn’t done any harm to anyone. We all know that one in two of us will be affected by cancer at some point, but you never think it’ll happen to you.
Tim only wanted to know the bare minimum of his treatment and prognosis, whereas I wanted more information. He only wanted to see his family, not his friends. It was only by talking about how we felt that I could support him in a way that he wanted to be supported. Speaking to the nurse privately helped us both – that way he didn’t need to hear anything that he didn’t want to know, but I got all the information I needed. If we didn’t talk about this, we would’ve both been left very frustrated.
We both keep soldiering on, and I keep praying that everything will be ok. You have to help yourself, I do allow myself to sit and cry but I quickly pull myself together. I have to be positive for Tim but deep down I’m always worrying. It’s hard to cope with but you do find the strength. I don’t know where it appears from, but it’s somewhere deep down.
It’s hard to think positive when I know that Tim is very ill, but it’s important to your mental health. You’re scared of saying the wrong thing, but even at his very lowest I could always bring him back round.
Tim spoke to a counsellor provided by a local charity at the hospital. It was clear that I couldn’t continue with my job. I couldn’t go to work, smile and serve people whilst also being brave and positive for Tim. I went to my GP and I was signed off. I moved to an apartment on the hospital grounds, which meant that I could be close to him whilst he was having treatment. We live an hour and 20 minutes from the hospital.
The main thing is to talk to your partner. I wouldn’t have been able to support him in the way that he wanted me to if we hadn’t have been so honest with each other. It took the pressure off us both.
Cancer has changed our lives, but sometimes in a more positive way, we appreciate each other and rely on each other far more now.