Pancreatic Cancer: What My Wife’s Death Taught Me About Life – Health
Barely four months ago, Geraint John lost his wife and the mother of his children to a pancreatic cancer.
The day Deb, 43, died, he took it upon himself to raise his three children: they grieved for the loss of their mother, he with the crushing pain of not having his partner.
She decided to tell her story to help others who are experiencing a similar situation or preparing for the couple’s death.
She also has advice for anyone who wants to support someone who is grieving.
Geraint, 41, said her life changed overnight when Deb was diagnosed with stage two pancreatic cancer in March 2021.
“You have this great weight on your shoulders, you’re mourning the life you had before and you’re in anticipation of grief, you know potentially what’s coming and you’re dreading it,” he says.
“When it happens, you just completely deflate and run out of energy, which is where I am right now.”
Geraint met Deb at a concert in 2005 and, three months later, she quit her job in Nottingham, a city in the north of England, to move in with him in Cardiff and they were married the following year.
They had three children, now aged 14, 12 and 8, and later moved to London.
“We were inseparable,” Geraint says.
“A big part of our life was having fun, going out to restaurants and just having a good time.”
“She was a really committed mother and an inspiration to the children.”
She recalls that when Deb, a public servant, was first diagnosed, they knew very little about pancreatic cancer, so they were “hugely optimistic.”
Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival of all common cancers, with a five-year survival of less than 7%, according to Pancreatic Cancer Action.
Break the news to the kids
A big part of our life was having fun, going out to restaurants and just having a good time.
Deb underwent an operation to remove the organs to which the cancer could spread, followed by months of chemotherapy, but at the end of August she was transferred to a hospice where she died on September 15.
“The really hard part is obviously breaking the news to the kids,” says Geraint.
To prepare, she spoke with psychologists and took notes.
“You have to be very clear,” says Geraint.
“Basically, I had to sit them down and tell them that Mom was going to die, that she wasn’t going to (survive) and there was no question about it.”
“And then you have to manage their expectations in terms of time scales as well.”
He said it had been heartbreaking: “To be honest, I’ve blocked it.”
Remember that the day Deb died was completely surreal.
“I had to explain to them that mom was going to die the next day and we had to say goodbye,” she said.
“It’s quite strange when you’re in that situation, you have to be strong and you have to remember your role, they’re essentially watching you and they hang on to your every word and you go into overdrive…
Then all of a sudden it’s gone.”
“Basically, I had to sit them down and tell them that mom was going to die, that she was not going to (survive) and that there was no doubt about it.
Coming home and seeing her belongings—coats, shoes, glasses—was another surreal moment, Geraint says.
They sneaked off to a burger joint for dinner and sat in silence.
How do you start supporting three children who just lost their mother while dealing with your own grief?
Suddenly you have to take responsibility for everything from regular shopping to the family calendar.
“My thing is that the house is full of love, so you don’t have to be strict, not push anyone, forget about all the routine … and talk about Deb constantly,” he says.
She says that before Deb died, they had a conversation about her funeral wishes, but they didn’t talk much about what life would be like after she was gone.
“Maybe we could have talked a little more about the nuts and bolts of me being here now, on my own, running the household, but I wanted her to be positive and feel like she was going to get through it.”
“I guess that’s something I regret maybe a little bit.”
Geraint and the kids have been on vacation a couple of times because that’s where he sees they’re happy.
This Christmas the family did not put up a tree, did not exchange gifts and went on vacation to Antigua.
“Although it doesn’t improve anything, it just covers the cracks a bit,” he says.
In terms of his own well-being, he has found boxing cathartic and a good way to release stress, he enjoys running and walking and found the recent World Cup in Qatar a “big distraction”.
People find it very, very difficult to talk about it: you bring it up and people just don’t know how they react
Seeing a psychologist for a year before Deb died was also beneficial and helped manage her expectations for what was to come.
“But I’m not going to dress it up, it’s a very, very challenging period, and the reality is there’s not much (to help).”
“You have to be very easy on yourself: if you don’t want to get up, then don’t get up, if the kids don’t want to go to school, then they don’t have to go to school.”
Another difficulty for Geraint can be other people’s reactions.
“People find it very, very difficult to talk about it – you bring it up and people just don’t know how to react.”
“Some people just can’t deal with it, they just turn their back on you.”
Sometimes people can say things that are “almost embarrassing,” he says.
“People always say ‘at least she’s not suffering’. That’s kind of funny.”
“The other is: ‘how are you?'”
“Sometimes I laugh out loud: ‘Are you seriously asking me that? I really suck because Deb died, I have three kids, I’m alone, he’s pretty miserable. How are you doing?'”
She says that there are times, often, that she finds herself talking to Deb.
“I just go ‘I can’t believe you put me in this situation’ and I can feel her laughing at me,” she says with a smile.
What to say to someone who is grieving?
Geraint is aware that it could be difficult to know what to say in that situation.
“You have to say something like, ‘I’m really sorry for your loss,’ because it’s something you really appreciate.”
“And you have to give them the choice: do you want to talk about it or don’t you want to talk about it? And sometimes I’m like, ‘I really don’t want to talk about it’ and sometimes I’m like, ‘yes’ and you talk about it.”
She also advises against asking a grieving person if they want help, as they may be inundated with the same or similar questions.
“Just do it. If you’re going to cook lasagna or whatever, bring a slice. If you want to come and take the kids, just come and take the kids.”
“Don’t be afraid, don’t feel like you can’t do that. If you’re friends with someone, be there for them.”
You think that going for a walk or having a coffee can be better than going to the pub or a bar.
Immediately after Deb’s death, many people rallied to help, he says.
“Everyone loves lasagna, so I think at one point we had eight or nine lasagnas…”
“I think I had lasagna for breakfast once,” he jokes.
While some friends have remained close, one friend still visits weekly for a meal and “a little laugh,” others begin to drift away as the three months pass.
“People just assume you’re okay.”
in the networks
Geraint has been sharing his experience on social media and thinks it’s easy to interpret some of what he posts as okay.
Been boxing for past few years in Brixton for past few years and this week I’ve been coming down every day. Helps clear my head, gives a temporary escape. I would def recommend to anyone dealing with grief etc. 💜 pic.twitter.com/xUzjeeFGjv
— Geraint John (@geraintjohn_) September 22, 2022
“The reality is that we all know that social media is sometimes just not a reflection of how you really feel,” he says.
His social media posts have prompted many other mourners to get in touch, as well as others, including a Welsh footballer, who want to offer support or condolences.
A chain restaurant owner offered a free Sunday lunch for the family, someone else gave them a private tour of a cat sanctuary, pizzerias delivered pizzas, someone offered them their vacation home, and others offered to turn clothes from Deb in bears for the kids.
“The world is a really beautiful place and people can be very, very nice and that’s what I’m finding out now.”
“Processing the trauma”
Since Deb’s death is so recent, Geraint said he and the children needed time to process the devastating events of the past two years.
The family is beginning individual grief counseling and will also accept the offer of support from the hospice and the children’s school.
Geraint is also in the process of getting back to work—he owns and runs an agency that provides digital services and makes podcasts—but it’s not easy.
“Most of the day I just try to understand what has happened in the last two years.”
“How did they take someone so talented and beautiful, such an amazing mother, my wife, it just seems unfair. It’s going to take a long time to process that, I don’t think I’ve really processed it.”
Have the past two years changed your outlook on life?
“There has been a huge change in my way of thinking,” he reflects.
“One thing I regret is maybe not enjoying the time when Deb was healthy a little more.”
He says he wishes he hadn’t been “overwhelmed and stressed” with work.
“If I could go back in time now, I’d say, ‘Geraint, just don’t worry about it.'”
She says that since Deb’s death, she’s found that she usually doesn’t stress about things the way she used to.
He adds that the experience has taught him to “enjoy every second, every moment as if it were the last because today could be the last.”
“People always say, ‘Are you mad?'”
“But I don’t find that. I’m thankful for what we had, and I’m thankful for the experiences. I’m thankful for her.”
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BBC-NEWS-SRC: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-64290633, IMPORTING DATE: 2023-01-17 10:50:06