Marilyn on supporting Lara and Ashley

Marilyn drinks a cup of tea. She is laughing sitting on the sofa in Ashley and Lara's living room.
Marilyn drinks a cup of tea. She is laughing sitting on the sofa in Ashley and Lara's living room.

Marilyn is a Macmillan Clinical Psychologist who works for South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Trust. One aspect of her job is to support individuals and families who have been affected by cancer. One couple who benefited from her support was Ashley and his wife Lara.

Ashley’s diagnosis had started to affect their relationship and family life. A Macmillan nurse suggested psychological support to help them talk about their feelings and help them both feel less isolated.

Marilyn's story

I got a phone call from a nursing colleague who was really concerned about the impact of Ashley’s cancer on both himself and his wife Lara, so I drove down to meet them in their lovely home in Ludlow. Ashley had just had surgery, and he and Lara came to the door, both looking absolutely exhausted. We sat down with a cup of tea and they talked to me about just how difficult it was.

Ashley was really quite down after having surgery for his cancer, and Lara was also really struggling with the whole situation. I think it had been really difficult for them to find ways to talk to one another about the things that worried them. 

My real concern about Ashley and Lara was that they could’ve become very isolated. They live out in rural Shropshire and, although they have good support from family and friends, sometimes people need to talk to somebody who’s a little bit separate.

Over a series of appointments I encouraged them, both individually and together, to express some of their fears and uncertainties about the future and to communicate those to each other. 

We've been working hard on making changes – understanding more about Ashley’s feelings, and how normal it is to feel angry, irritated or pretty down at times.

I think the great thing about working with them has been their ability to talk about even the most difficult things with me and to have the courage to talk to each other about these difficulties. We had some really important conversations together, and I think that made quite a difference at the time.

I was also able to apply for a Macmillan grant that supported Ashley in developing his Radiotherapy Photography Project.

Ashley developed a series of photographs during his 30 days of radiotherapy treatment in London. These beautiful photos tell the story of his experience of cancer treatment. We were able to display them in hospital waiting areas as well as in galleries, sharing Ashley’s resilience and creativity in overcoming some of the hardships that he experienced. The project was important for both of us.

Looking back, it has been a privilege to be involved in supporting Ashley and Lara. It's clear that they’re both in a very different emotional state now. It's some years on, and we've kept in touch over that time. I’m proud to think that my support of Ashley and Lara played a part in helping them come though such a difficult time in their lives.