24 November 2011
Presenter Tim Lovejoy talks for the first time about his brother's death from cancer, exclusively to Macmillan Cancer Support. Interview by Alison Davies.
My brother, James, was 37 and just married when he was told he had pancreatic cancer.
His illness brought us ridiculously close and more intimate than we’d ever been, even as children. I think he was trusting of me because I wasn’t fussing around him.
We were really close in our childhood, he was two years older than me and we shared everything. But, like lots of siblings, our lives went in different directions, we grew apart and I know sometimes he lived life to the extreme. But he didn’t deserve terminal cancer.
It had all started with stomach aches. They got more severe so the GP sent him to hospital for a check-up. He was diagnosed with IBS and sent away with some medication.
As I said, James had times in his life when he was unhealthy, but it’s ironic, he’d really turned himself around, changed his diet, got his stress and anxieties under control, and met someone he wanted to spend his life with.
They got married, went on honeymoon and that’s when the pain got so severe they had to cut it short and fly home to get checked out at hospital.
At first they told him that there was a bigger chance of him winning the lottery than there being something seriously wrong. Then I got a call from my dad. He said James had been told they’d found a tumour.
I rushed to the hospital and we all sat there in shock. The oncologist came in and introduced himself, explained that James had pancreatic cancer and that he’d need chemotherapy. He told us this type of cancer was rare for someone of James' age, and therefore he had little experience of it, but he seemed sure it could be treated.
A terrible thing to be told
No one told us that pancreatic cancer is so dangerous; we all thought he had a chance. After four weeks of treatment, they told him it wasn’t working and there was nothing else they could do for him. It was the most terrible thing to be told that they’d had to give up on him.
I’d go around to his house, and we’d sit and chat. I could tell that sometimes he was scared and angry. He was fearful of death. He kept asking himself, ‘Why me?’, and although he wasn’t religious, he called the vicar to come and talk to him to try and make sense of everything.
I couldn’t bear sitting around waiting for him to die. I convinced him to see a specialist doctor in holistic health, and she explained to James that even though his cancer couldn’t be cured, it could be something you could live with. James was asked to focus on his diet and avoid acidic food so that he’d turn his system alkaline.
A spiritualist, who was recommended to James, helped him find ways to think positively. Consulting the spiritualist and taking control of his diet gave James the feeling he was fighting back and not accepting his fate.
For that month it really perked him up, it reduced his anxiety, he was positive and could imagine a future and talk about his dreams. He even managed to go to football matches with his wife and he and I went to vegetarian restaurants together. Death wasn’t in our conversation.
Rays of light
Then the pain became really serious and he was put on all the painkillers going. It was the Macmillan nurses who were our rays of light in all this awfulness. When cancer claims a victim, you watch the family break down around you. For mum and dad, utterly distressed to watch one of their children die before them, the nurses were able to give them comfort and a voice to call.
For James they were there to help him quickly get the medication he needed to keep the pain under control, cut through the chase of the ‘system’, and just talk to him when he was feeling stressed and down.
At times he felt very lonely and I know the Macmillan nurses helped him understand that he wasn’t alone. He could share with them the feelings and worries that he felt unable to tell us, his family. I suppose he wanted to protect us from his fears.
There was nothing gentle and gradual about my brother's death in December 2003, only four months after his diagnosis.
Mum called me. She said I must come immediately. James was in such a bad way, they’d put him in an ambulance and were trying to get him back into a hospice where he’d spent some time earlier. But the ambulance took him to hospital instead. We sat around his bed and waited. Was he aware that we were there? I really believe so. When I spoke to him to assure him we were by his side and he wasn’t alone, his electro cardiogram monitor reacted.
He died shortly after. Just a slowing of breath and then he was gone.
Watching someone die is the saddest thing. I never want to be so sad again.
Information and support
If you have been through a similar experience to Tim and have lost a loved one, we can help. For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00, Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm.
You can find out more about pancreatic cancer and caring for someone with cancer in our information section. We also answer your questions about Macmillan nurses and tell you more about others ways we can help you and your family.
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