Of course we are all unique, but we tend to identify ourselves by what we do for a living, which is simple when you are working but a lot more difficult when you’re not! Before cancer it was easy for me, “I am a business consultant,” I would reply, when asked what I am. Since then I have never been sure what to answer! Once I wasn’t able to work I felt a clear loss of identity, and still do today. Luckily I have never lost my transferable skills and am still able to use them in a different way, by helping people, which is so much more fulfilling.
Whilst working I never had to think about what my skills were, as I just got on with things and always got work by referral. Having been self-employed I have never even applied for a job or written a CV! But when cancer entered my life and took all my confidence, I had to think long and hard about what my skills were! I could only come up with one, and that was TALKING! All of the work I did relied on it, but I couldn’t understand how I had done so well with it. No written qualifications to talk of, just talking day in and day out. Bonkers right??
I have encountered some terrible treatment in recent years, but thankfully none that has permanently affected my ability to talk! I just could not imagine a life where I was unable to use my voice. Imagine a singer having serious surgery on his face and throat? Well I have met that man, Geoff Southworth. Not only did he have cancer, but as he was trying to recover from that he had a stroke! He couldn’t do the thing he loved and consequently lost his income too. I came in contact with Geoff and his wife Sue, when they contacted SimPal for support, several years ago. He couldn’t speak well and used the phone mainly for texting Sue, who was working to keep some money coming into the home whilst Geoff was sick.
Due to the support that the family received from our charity Sue and Geoff became great advocates for our work, and after their case was featured on BBC national news Geoff became slowly more positive. His talking became better and we filmed them for our charity video. It was then that we received the incredible news that Geoff wanted to help us raise some funds by singing for the first time in 7 years at his local working men’s club! My goodness, Geoff rehearsed regularly with his fellow band members and planned his evening for Friday November 15th.
I was there and it felt the entire population of Blackpool were also! The club was packed as word got round that Geoff was going back on stage! We were treated to some wonderful entertainment before the main event. Once the man himself came on stage with the band, the crowd went mad. To know what Geoff had achieved both physically and mentally was absolutely incredible. A man that had lost his identity in every possible way, could regain the confidence to get back on stage, play guitar and sing again, what a wonderful story!
Being with the entire Southworth family watching proudly as the band played some wonderful music, was a real privilege for me! They all commented that they were beginning to see the old Geoff returning. Yet another reminder that cancer affects everyone, not just the person who has it! Geoff’s story had brought everyone together, and possibly the family even closer. He would not let the impact of cancer stop him doing what he loved, even if it took a long time to get back on his feet.
Incredible situations like this I see quite frequently now, which is why I believe I have the greatest job in the world. But not everyone goes this way. For many people affected by cancer the true challenge can be finding a new identity, being unable to be the person they were before. I know I am a very different man after my personal experiences, but feel I have now found an identity that I am happy with. I can now laugh again as my confidence returns, and I have managed to use my speaking skills to educate both patients and clinicians.
This piece shows that the challenge of dealing with cancer can be even more psychological than it is physical. In my opinion you will never lose those scars, but hopefully learn to live with them. If you are not careful it can also try to take your identity as it wreaks havoc in your life. None of us will ever be the same after a cancer diagnosis, but hopefully you are comfortable with the person you become.
I owe a massive debt of thanks to the Southworth family for inviting me to be a part of your lives and sharing your experiences, warts and all for the benefit of others. So typically unselfish! As always these are my experiences and views, please feel free to share your own below.
I am an official support partner of the Grove Hotel in Bournemouth. The only hotel in the UK specifically for people affected by cancer and other life limiting conditions.