When Andy Edwards was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and given the devastating news that he only had seven to 10 months to live, one of his first thoughts was how to break the news to his young children.
He and his wife Georgina were helped along their way by counsellors at CancerCare, who advised them of the best methods to use.
Andy, who lives in Lancaster with Georgina and their three daughters, aged four, six and eight, has since had invaluable support from CancerCare children’s service.
And the charity will continue to help the family with preparing for the future.
Andy, 58, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in March 2014 and initially given less than a year to live.
The former IT worker said: “I had originally been told there was something on my liver that they couldn’t operate on, and then when I went back to the hospital a few months later I was told it was cancer.
“I was told that the normal treatment for it wasn’t possible. There was a serious risk of me dying if the operation was done, because of the position of the tumour.
“An oncologist at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary referred me to the Macmillan nurse, and she sorted out everything for me within a couple of weeks. It was amazing.
“She also mentioned CancerCare and referred me there. It was originally for a couple of weeks of counselling, but I didn’t attend for very long because I thought I had dealt with it and didn’t need counselling.
“Twelve months later I realised I did need some help and so went back for counselling which helped enormously.”
For Andy and Georgina, the main issue was how to break the news to their young children.
“They were two, four and six at the time,” Andy said. “That’s when CancerCare came to the rescue.
“I went with Georgina to CancerCare, and they suggested talking to the child counsellor.
“It’s about getting through the process of telling the children. It doesn’t prepare you for it but it gives you more confidence for doing it.
“They said we just had to tell them the truth. Children that age will pick up on things so they said we should tell them what’s going on and they will cope with daddy’s death better if they are prepared.
“They said there may be some behavioural issues but that’s only to be expected.
“The next question was when to tell them because what’s a good time?
“Eventually we just took them into the lounge and sat them down, and my wife said that daddy had cancer.
“They had seen some adverts on TV about cancer in the run-up to it.
“The two eldest just started crying. It was very emotional. The youngest didn’t really understand what we were saying.
“That first six months was really dark, it was dreadful.
“We arranged for the two oldest girls to go for children’s therapy. It’s great that we have got that facility because where else would you go?
“What they offer is just amazing. They provide a brilliant service, especially for the kids.”
Georgina said: “Our initial thoughts were not to tell the children until we really needed to but we were advised that children who are told sooner are able to deal with it better.
“Since then they have created relationships with their therapists – it’s now a place they are familiar with.
“Our middle child was referred back after Christmas when her behaviour deteriorated rapidly. Within half a term she had settled down again. Particularly with her I think it’s the whole uncertainty of the situation, but she benefited from having that hour being made to feel special.
“It’s like a second home. The staff are lovely. It’s a very comfortable place to go. I can’t imagine not going there and I often wonder where we would be without it.”
It isn’t only the girls who have been helped by CancerCare; both Andy and Georgina have used their services.
Georgina has been for massage and counselling, while Andy has been to Tai Chi and aromatherapy.
Andy said: “I went for a few months last year. I was in and out of hospital for a few months and I was really fragile.
“I was feeling pretty bad, some days would be fine and other days I would get up for an hour and then have to go back to bed.”
Andy is now taking cancer-blocking drugs to extend his life expectancy.
Georgina said: “We were intitially told seven to 10 months so we had prepared for him not being here in a year’s time.
“Now it’s like we are living under a huge cloud of uncertainty.”
“I think the lack of security is what’s affected the children,” Andy said. “Every other month I would go off in an ambulance and they would have to prepare themselves; time and time again they are going through an emotional rollercoaster.
“I don’t know where we would be without CancerCare to support us through that.”