David on coping with your partner’s incurable cancer

David leans against a wall in his home with his arms crossed
David leans against a wall in his home with his arms crossed

David’s wife Claire was diagnosed with cancer for the second time a few years ago. ‘The doctor told us it was terminal. We were devastated. But Claire’s amazingly resilient.’

Although Claire has been very poorly on several occasions, she is determined to carry on as normal, and this is made partly possible by Mandy, their Macmillan community nurse.

David's story

About two years ago, Claire had a pain in her chest and she wasn’t sure what it was. She thought she might have cracked a rib or something like that, so she went to see the GP. Because of her previous medical history, they sent her for a chest X-ray. I remember getting the phone call that evening, saying the GP wants to see you first thing tomorrow morning. I think then I knew something was wrong.

The doctor said, ‘It’s terminal, and it’s very difficult to say how long you’re going to have. It could be 12 months, it could be 10 years. It all depends.’

Because Claire has terminal cancer, there are people in this village, in this small community where we live, who just want to help.

Of course, everybody wants to know how long she’s got left. Actually, she spoke to her oncologist the other week and asked. The oncologist said, ‘Well, if you’d asked me two years ago I’d have said about 12 months. So I’m not even going to guess.’

I can’t see me living my life without Claire being in it, if that makes sense. I can’t see the children growing up without their mummy, I really can’t.

Claire likes to keep everything as normal as possible. So apart from when she’s been a little bit poorly, and she’s been in bed, family life hasn’t really changed. The kids go to school. I go to work. Claire gets on her computer and does her work when she can.

Claire’s a very strong person, and I think she copes really well. But she copes a lot better with the assistance of her friends and her family.

We were then introduced to Mandy a few years ago, who’s our Macmillan community nurse. That gave another level to the support we got from Macmillan. For me Mandy is more than just a medical professional. She is a friend of the family.

Mandy has told us several times, ‘If you ever need anything, call me. You’ve got my mobile number. If I’m on holiday, if I’m on study leave, if I’m on a course, text me. And if you can’t get hold of me, I’ll deal with it as soon as I can.’

There’s a really good section on the Macmillan website that explains the last few weeks before death – maybe six weeks out, then four weeks, then two weeks. I think that’s really good information to know, because you need to prepare yourself.

My recommendation is to tell as many people as possible. Speak to as many people as possible, because I truly believe the more people who are thinking about you, the easier it is to cope.

Don’t hide away, talk to people about it – people like Macmillan.

Sadly, Claire died in February 2015. We'd like to thank David for allowing us to continue sharing her story, so others can benefit from Macmillan's support.

David sits on his sofa

Watch: all about David and Claire's experiences

Watch: all about David and Claire's experiences