Too Upbeat for Cancer - Detailing A Rubbish Year And A Bit

Mrs Nicky Speaks!


By popular demand and way of an Interlude, Mrs. Nicky has written a guest blog entry. She wrote this under duress, and has left out many things that sum up just how extraordinary a woman she is and how lucky I am to have her.

She's left out how she trained for the Shine Half Marathon whilst taking care of a sick husband, a son and holding down a high profile job. Which means she hasn't mentioned the thousands of pounds she raised for Cancer Research. I think I'm the one that likes the attention....

It you want to know more, ask her questions or tell her what you'd like to hear about via Facebook, Twitter or the comments section here. I'll be sure to bully her into writing more.

Enough from me. I'll hand you over to my incredible, beautiful, amazing wife.

"I was falling into an abyss…. my stomach approaching my throat…. The room swam behind unshed tears. I was aware of the consultant talking, but it was in slow motion, a distorted voice, like hearing it through water.

We had just been told that Nicky had incurable, advanced colorectal cancer.

My inertia lasted about 5 seconds, then something clicked - the doctor in me took over. My brain went into overdrive, a thousand questions filling my head - where, exactly where is the tumour? Where has it spread? Is it in the liver? Outside the abdomen? Bones? Brain?? What are the treatment options? Side effects? Oh God - Ethan hasn't had chickenpox yet, Nicky will be immunosuppressed, we must get his VZIG status checked [jargon alert: VZIG is varicella zoster immunoglobulin - what you produce when you have been exposed to chickenpox, or the vaccine. You can check a blood level to determine if someone is immune to chickenpox or not], perhaps we should get Ethan vaccinated? How do I do that? Can I organize it privately through the GP? Where has it spread? What are the treatment options? Side effects? How long has he got? HOW LONG? Not long. (by now, the consultant was talking about trialing three cycles of chemo and reviewing) He's not mentioning any further ahead than three cycles. That's six weeks! What if Nicky doesn't respond to the chemo? (That possibility was glossed over somewhat…. There was no other option).

I'm sorry, how rude of me. I haven't introduced myself. Nicky asked me to write a piece for his blog from my perspective. Apparently people are keen to hear it. I hope I don't disappoint. I'm Mrs Nicky, also know as Dr Kerry Boardman. Mostly for this cancer battle I am Mrs Nicky, there to try to support my husband in any way I am able. But I have also been Dr Boardman when Nicky needs me to be - if others are failing to communicate properly; or not organising what needs to be organised; or forgetting that Nicky is a person and not just a cancer case. I'm passionate about clinical communication and person-centred care. I teach both. I will not accept anything substandard for my husband. I will be his advocate when he needs one. God, I sound awful, don't I? One of those relatives! I promise I'm not…. Well, not if you treat my husband with respect and dignity. Fortunately, the vast majority of the people caring for Nicky have done just that. In fact, I can't fault most of his care. Which is just as well, because cancer is hard enough to fight, without having to battle the system too.

One of the things I have been asked incessantly since this all started is "how do you cope?" There are four answers to that question, you can choose your favourite, if you like:

1) We cope because we have no other choice
2) We cope because we are a strong unit. Nicky is my very best friend as well as my husband. I mean every word of my wedding vows as much as I did on the day, nine years ago, that I made them. For better, for worse; in sickness and in health. (and, despite what he says in his blog about failing me and Ethan, I would like it to be on record that, in my opinion, he hasn't. Not once.)
3) We cope because we are not doing it alone. We have tremendous, really tremendous support from family, especially my parents and Nicky's mum; friends; work colleagues and Nicky's healthcare teams.
4) We don't always cope. There are dark times too. Times we have clung together on the sofa and wept. Times I have found myself thinking about what Nicky might want at his funeral or how I will keep his memory alive for Ethan. Times I have got angry and thought "Why us? Why Nicky? Why so young?"
And it is tough living with someone with cancer…There are things I have had to give up, or at least put on hold for now - my clinical work, my master's degree, my free time, my dress shopping habit(!) I am just about clinging on to my academic work and crochet hobby…. and still hoping that I will be able to pick up a small amount of clinical work and my dissertation again soon. There are things we have had to deny Ethan - trips out because Daddy is poorly, a promised holiday to Disneyland Paris postponed because Daddy was in hospital. EB and I don't begrudge this, we would rather have time with Daddy, in whatever way we can, but that still doesn't make it easy.

But, believe it or not, there have also been positives - an amazing holiday with the Boardman side of the family last September, between chemo rounds; several trips to Legoland before Nicky was too poorly; snuggles and Disney films on the sofa with EB when Daddy isn't well enough to run around; watching EB develop into a caring little boy, who asks "Daddy, did you sleep well last night?" "Daddy, how are you feeling today?", "Mummy, are you ok?" and says "I am going to give Daddy a cuddle to help him to feel better", whilst hauling himself onto the sofa with his beloved teddy Henry under one arm, and the iPad under the other.

More on Henry - this is Ethan's bear. He is one of four matching bears. The hospice play therapist suggested that when Nicky was in hospital, Ethan might like to choose matching toys for himself and Nicky, to feel that they had a bond, something to cuddle and think of the other one…. So I bought teddies for Nicky, Ethan and Nicky's mum (I figured she might need one to cuddle at times too). We have since bought me one at EB's request. Ethan named them all (Henry for him, Daniel for Daddy, Arthur for Nannie and Amy for Mummy) and they now play a huge role in our lives - helping to "look after" us all, providing a listening ear for when EB wants to talk about something and giving our gorgeous boy reassurance that one of the bears is always with Daddy to help take care of him and give him the all-important medicinal cuddles. I would encourage anyone with a young child and a parent who is going away to hospital, on military duty, working abroad or for whatever other reason to try it.

So, we carry on, as we must, and we find ways of coping - or not, at times. The battles are slightly different now that Nicky is on to the next phase of his treatment, but I'll let him tell you about that…. He does it so much better!"

Chapter 13 - Long Is The Way, And Hard, That Out Of Hell Leads Up To Light »

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