Written by Dotty Winters


The other C-word

What type of useless husband gets cancer off a rollercoaster? Dotty Winters looks back on a year in what feels like someone else’s life.

eye reflected in floating bubble
Someone asked me recently if anyone had ever made me go weak at the knees. The question instantly took me back to this one occasion, when my husband did exactly that.

He called me at work; I went into the corridor to take the call, so I could talk freely. He’d been at the hospital for a check-up after bashing his wrist on a rollercoaster at Alton Towers (boys, eh?). The doctors had checked him out, and said he probably had lymphoma. He asked me if I’d ever heard of it, and did it sound serious.

I deflated like a lilo: my knees stopped doing what they usually do and I found myself sitting on the floor of the corridor telling him not to worry and we could talk about it when I got home.

I was almost instantly furious – what kind of useless husband gets cancer off a rollercoaster and invalidates your travel insurance four days before you are due to leave on holiday together? This was one of many times over the following 18 months when my thoughts, face and words refused to work together as a team.

Don’t worry. He got better. Now, years later I can happily quip that my husband got cancer because there is literally nothing he won’t do for a bit of attention. Back then I wasn’t sure I would ever joke about anything again. One bruised wrist and a lump, just there, by his collarbone, right on his lymph node. That was all there was to see.

“We both went into quite deep shock, living in a strange bubble. No, not a strange bubble. Two strange bubbles.”

From that initial diagnosis the NHS machine kicked into action at its brilliant best. Appointments were scheduled in record time, results were passed smoothly from department to department, Hubby was passed smoothly from our local hospital to the big regional cancer specialist hospital.

An endless parade of skilful, compassionate and wonderful NHS staff delivered bad news after bad news: the cancer was advanced, there were a lot of tumours, the tumours were affecting other organs, he’d have to stop work, the treatment would take a year, it would leave him infertile. If Whatsapp had been around back then our status would have been the same, week after week: “Waiting for tests”.

We both went into quite deep shock, living in a strange bubble. No, not a strange bubble. Two strange bubbles. The oncologist had been right when he said that the cancer was affecting other organs, because soon after his diagnosis my dear husband went really quite loopy.

Now he looks back on that year and doesn’t remember what he was like; I am deeply grateful to the few close friends who saw what he was like and who can gently remind him what an utter weirdo he was. His wonderful brain decided to protect him; he took positive thinking to whole new levels and became selectively deaf and positively deluded.

He could not be left to attend an appointment alone. He would hear the words “In some cases this type of tumour can be treated successfully,” and come home and tell me he was cured. The news that he was responding well to treatment, became “I don’t need more treatment”.

Of all the weirdness that cancer can bring to your family I wasn’t expecting part of the deal to be me having to phone friends and family and tell them that while he was doing really well, he wasn’t, in fact, “in remission” after two chemo sessions, despite what he had called to tell them. In short, he was a bit of a weirdo for a while there.

“People were kind, they offered me sympathy and I accepted it as if it were a monkey wrench – I knew it should be useful but I had no idea how to use it, or why I might need it.”

Meanwhile I was working on crazy of my own. My brain decided I would be invincible and no one was going to see me cry. I got up every morning and went to work. I woke, put on makeup, chatted to hubby and made sure he had everything he needed, got in the car, cried for 45 minutes on my way, put on more makeup, did my job, cried for 45 minutes home, parked on the drive, put on makeup and a smile and went home and pretended everything was fine.

I cleaned, I filled the freezer with every sort of superfood you could think of, even though I knew there was no such thing and even if there were, no amount of pomegranate juice was likely to be the answer. I couldn’t get my words to work: sometimes I would trail off mid-sentence. I’d get distracted by something shiny, like a demented, over made-up magpie.

People were kind, they offered me sympathy and I accepted it as if it were a monkey wrench – I knew it should be useful but I had no idea how to use it, or why I might need it.

One day I stood in Tesco for 20 minutes staring at the magazines. Kylie Minogue had been diagnosed with cancer and was on all the covers. My brain couldn’t process why she was in the papers and he wasn’t, and while it chugged away trying to work it out, it refused to make my legs work. So there I stood. Bamboozled.

He had almost a year of treatment, some small procedures, chemo and radiotherapy. He responded well and made an incredible recovery. We went on to have unexpected children and he’s been clear for more than 10 years, which leaves his chance of getting the same cancer again at the same level as the general population (pretty low).

We look back on that time in our life and it sort of feels like it happened to other people, people we hardly know anymore. I’ve even learned to stop dispatching him to the GP every time he sneezes. I’ve not let him forget how odd he was for a while back then though; after all, I don’t want him getting ill again for attention.


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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.