Married for over 38 years and Father to 2 sons, Chris’ life was turned upside down in 2007 when he was diagnosed with a very rare blood cancer. Having put off getting checked out for so long, more bad news came when he found out that he was stage 4. Being the fighter that he is and with the support of his family, he managed to get back on his feet and continue living life.
Regularly invited to talk at health conferences and highly respected by cancer professionals and patients alike, Chris has dedicated his time to finding ways to improve the quality of life of those affected by this illness. Learn more about his inspiring story and work for the cancer community in our interview below:
Can you tell us about your cancer diagnosis?
I was diagnosed in 2007 with Mantle Cell Lymphoma stage 4. A rare incurable blood cancer. The first signs I had were extreme tiredness and a cold I couldn’t shake off. Unfortunately, I left it too long to seek help which is why it was stage 4. It was a great shock to me as I was 51 and had strong health until that point.
How did your friends and family react to the news?
We were all truly shocked that I had gone from healthy to close to death in such a short time. It was very difficult sharing the news with my family, and we struggled to believe the reality of the prognosis. Telling friends and work colleagues was also difficult, as we never knew when we may meet for the last time.
I think it became easier for me to accept than anyone else.
Due to the instability of your health going back to work was not possible, how did you manage? Did you seek any special kind of support (financially, emotionally…)?
Not going back to work was a massive blow for me. Not just financially but psychologically too. I loved what I did, and was good at it. Nothing could fill that void for me, and it felt that society had discarded me.
Financially it was a massive blow as our household income was halved overnight. Due to the fact that my wife and I both had good jobs, we were entitled to very little financial help. So that was difficult and it took me a couple of years to get straight financially.
Emotional resources are very hard to find, but after several years of ‘coping’ I found myself seeking and finding some emotional support, which proved very helpful.
How did the idea come about to start your own charity?
It wasn’t really something that I wanted to do as I didn’t want to get involved with more paperwork and red tape. But when I was approached with the idea, there is nothing like it in the world, and I just had to do it, as it makes a big difference to people affected by cancer.
Can you tell us more about SimPal and how it works?
SimPal provides free data, calls and texts to people affected by cancer in the UK. We can also supply phones where really necessary.
This is funded by donations, and our scope is very much determined by the funds we can raise. The service is not means tested or contracted so there is no obligation for the customer. It is all totally free for on average 6 months. After that they have the option to stay with us but pay as they go, or move to another provider.
Many people affected by cancer can no longer afford to have a phone service when they need it most, which will increase that feeling of isolation.
We have many calls from other countries to expand our services which we will do once we can establish a stable funding platform.
What made you decide to start the blog “Chris’s Cancer Community”? What has the feedback been like?
Through my own long-term personal experiences, I saw how poor cancer support was outside of the clinical environment. Nothing was really coordinated, and large organisations having little idea of what was required. I wanted to see if I was the only one who felt that way, so I started writing about my thoughts and experiences.
My business experiences helped me see how much better things could be even without increased money. So I started a Community who felt similar to me. Over the years my site has become more popular and is now influential across the world with both clinicians and patients. I am constantly looking for innovative ways to solve old problems.
You had Chemo to treat your cancer, which side-effects were the hardest for you?
Sickness was the worst. Although I had strong anti-sickness drugs I felt sick at the sight of any food, and it got to the stage where I didn’t want to eat. Also, it was an exhausting experience and got tougher and tougher.
I found the environment very difficult to cope with as of course there were many very sick people there.
Do you have any tips to share to better cope with these effects?
Just be kind to yourself. I found listening to music was a great distraction.
It’s breast cancer awareness month. Do you think cancer is still a taboo in the society? If yes, how can we smash these taboos?
I don’t think that cancer is taboo in society, as we have come a long way in the last 10 years and are now discussing it very openly. Of course, the rise of social media has made things a lot easier.
I do however believe that certain cancers are still very much taboo, with woman only cancers, bowel and prostate cancer. These involving parts of the body that we still feel difficult to talk about. Both men and women find it difficult to talk about their intimate parts. We still have a long way to go here.
Do you have something important to add for our readers?
I would like to give two tips that I found very helpful. The first one is learning to be patient. The health system can take its own time and rarely works on time, so don’t get too frustrated when things run late as they inevitably will.
Also, don’t compare yourself with others. Even though you may have the same disease/treatment, your experiences will never be the same. Remember that it’s normal in your new world!
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