Caring for someone with a terminal illness

Janet & Chris ' Interview 02

Age at interview: 59

Brief outline: Janet was able to fit her work around supporting and caring for her partner Chris, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in May2008. Chris died in February 2010. Janet is currently struggling to come to terms with her loss.

Background: Janet is a self-employed classical musician and conductor. Janet was married to Chris for three and a half years. Ethnic background' White British.

Audio & video

Chris’s diagnosis of ovarian cancer was a tremendous shock, and Janet and Chris sat up into the night discussing the implications of the diagnosis on all aspects of their lives. Janet accompanied Chris to her appointment with the cancer specialist where they discovered she had significant tumour spread, so surgery was booked very quickly with the expectation of a successful outcome. Chris was able to take 6 months sick leave on full pay. This was a great relief as Chris was the main ‘bread-winner' so they had financial security while she recovered from her treatments. Subsequently they also found that Chris’s pension would also be payable to Janet, giving her some financial security in the future.

The surgery went well and the surgeon informed Janet that there was a very good chance of a good recovery. Janet felt very comforted and positive by this news. Janet visited Chris in hospital every day to take in things she might want, to show solidarity and to let Chris know that she really cared for her. Janet and Chris attended the specialist cancer counselling together. Although the counsellors normally expect to just see the patient, for Janet and Chris this was very much a joint experience and so they went to counselling together.

Surgery was followed by chemotherapy and Chris lost all her hair. Chris wore a wig to work but she found it itchy, hot and uncomfortable, so she took it off at home. Initially Janet found seeing Chris with no hair distressing but she got used to it. As Janet was able to work from home she was able to support Chris during her chemotherapy, making her food, checking she had things to read or to listen to and generally comforting and caring for her.

After the last cycle of chemotherapy Janet and Chris went on a long weekend away. Whilst they were away Janet heard that a close friend of hers had died suddenly. She found this very alarming and it heightened her awareness of Chris’s illness and the uncertainty of her recovery.

Blood tests after the chemotherapy indicated that whilst the tumours had not completely gone, they had receded. This news was encouraging and allowed Janet to look ahead to the next phase of their lives, knowing that one day the cancer would return. They anticipated several years together and made plans to enjoy this time with each other.

After the chemotherapy Janet and Chris resumed their old routines, sharing the household tasks and gardening. Chris was able to sing in the choir that Janet conducts and they did several concerts together, which was a joy for both of them. They had several very enjoyable holidays in the following 9 months before the cancer returned.

The first signs of the cancer becoming active again were very distressing but Janet and Chris talked through their options together, and with their MacMillan nurse, and decided to delay another cycle of chemotherapy for a few months. They took a holiday in New Zealand; a place which had special meaning for them.

On their return Chris started chemotherapy at a local hospital and as she felt very unwell, she was unable to return to work. After her second session of chemotherapy, Chris went into hospital for several days. Janet supported her by visiting every day. On her release from hospital, the district nurse visited daily and Janet cared for Chris at home.

Half way through the third cycle Chris was having problems and was admitted to the local hospice. Chris remained at the hospice until she died and Janet visited every day she could. Bad weather prevented her visiting on 2 days and Janet found it very hard to be unable to visit Chris on those days. Chris stayed in the hospice over the Christmas period and Janet was able to stay at the hospice with her. Janet knew Chris was becoming weaker and the most important thing for Janet was that Chris received any kind of care that she felt she needed.

Chris died while Janet was not at the hospice and Janet received the news over the phone. Janet felt numb but had to start thinking about all the practical issues around Chris’s death; telling family and friends; registering her death and collection of Chris’s personal effects from the hospice. These practical things filled Janet’s time and gave her something to focus on.

Chris and Janet had discussed funeral arrangements, so Janet was able to organise a funeral that reflected all Chris’s wishes. It was a comfort knowing that everything was as Chris would want it. Unfortunately Chris’s parents were unable to attend the funeral so Janet arranged a recording of the funeral. For several weeks after the funeral there were many practical things still to do, responding to cards and letters of condolence from friends and family and also dealing with legal issues. Janet also started to reflect on her future life without Chris.

Janet found being at home alone very hard. A significant anniversary was a watershed and Janet sought counselling to help her cope with the onset of depression. Janet felt unable to think ahead. Music concerts that were already planned gave Janet a focus and one of the concerts became a memorial concert for Chris. This was very uplifting for Janet.
Chris’s birthday was filled with planned activities but the day after Janet was very low and depressed. Friends were always available to talk to and this sustained Janet through the next few months.

It is now nine months since Chris died and Janet is still trying to come to terms with a life on her own. There are days when Janet feels it is so difficult that she is not sure how she can bear it. She is comforted by the knowledge that Chris felt her life had been full and that she had been able to support Chris through the cancer journey.



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