Sarah's Health Notes: Macmillan Talking Cancer Podcasts
I’m sitting in my office down the bottom of our garden in Dorset, looking out at the birds flitting around – a blue tit is sitting on top of a tall shrub like the king of the castle – watching my husband playing with his new puppy and listening to a Macmillan podcast about end of life care for cancer patients.
Before I tell you more about that, I should say I chose it at random and there are lots of other options – all offering support, information and empathy.
This episode, called simply ‘End of Life’, carries a warning that it ‘contains content which may be upsetting for some listeners’. In fact, I found it really comforting to listen to Max, a former soldier, talking about his mother’s recent death from breast cancer, followed by osteosarcoma. He was talking to Emma B, a Magic Radio DJ, who also lost her mother to cancer.
The background to why I found comforting is that my younger brother Simon died in May 2020 from bowel cancer. He died at home and it was a harrowing process. I wrote about it afterwards, here. (Above is a photo of Simon and me aged three years and 20 months.) His daughter (my niece) and I had been talking recently about the different stages and manifestations of grief that affect us. Curiously, I still find the death of such a big vibrant personality hard to believe. It feels like the poem where the writer says, ‘I have only slipped away into the next room’ *.
Simon died in his home, which was good in some ways but NHS coordinated end of life care was notable for not being coordinated or effective in terms of pain relief and I felt that, as his big sister and a health journalist, I should somehow have been able to make it better. The guilt has dissipated now, helped in part by a doctor friend who told me very firmly that I had to let it go.
So, back to the podcast: it is always comforting listening to people who have been through a similar process. The details were different but there was one lovely funny crossover. Nand, Max’s mum, had fluffy pink hair and my brother insisted, very near the end of his life, that I colour a big strand of his front hair shocking pink. (One of his carers brought us a spray dye, which was so sweet.)
Max talked freely and touchingly about his and his family’s emotions. I loved that they were able to cry together with Nand, Max’s mother, and that his father told them it wasn't weak to weep because what was happening was ‘rubbish’.
That was Episode 4 in Series 2 of Macmillan Cancer Support Talking Cancer podcasts, and the point of me writing about it this week is that Series 3 launched last Wednesday12th January. It’s hosted by radio presenter Angie Greaves (above), with six episodes where she has ‘honest, intimate and open conversations with incredible people living with cancer’.
I’ve known about Macmillan for many years but I’d forgotten how much useful practical information they offer online. Plus there’s a free information and support line 0808 808 00 00, which offers someone to talk to 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm. You can also chat online at the same times.
Reach out. It helps.