As a manager of 200 security personnel, talking about emotions was something I would never have imagined being OK with. Keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself was important, otherwise staff and customers who didn’t like my decisions might use them against me.
In August 2016, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer – a complete shock as it showed on a scan for something else. I can only describe hearing the ‘C word’ as feeling like my legs were taken away from the knees down. At the time, my wife and I had a two-year-old and she was 14 weeks pregnant.
In the following weeks I really needed to offload but felt like I wanted to protect my family, as I could see they were hurting. When I first met Anna,* a counsellor provided by Macmillan Cancer Support, it was difficult to start talking. But somehow – it felt like by magic – she managed to put me at my ease and within five minutes it all came out. These sessions helped me see things more clearly, and I began to understand that painful emotions were definitely better out than in.
I was rediagnosed in January 2018 and told the cancer was incurable. We were all devastated, but one of the first things I did was contact Anna, and again, hey presto, the magic happened. I then found out I was fortunate to qualify for a treatment funded by The Christie charity, which provides enhanced services over and above what the NHS funds. It was, however, a treatment described as ‘brutal’ – the consultant said I didn’t have to do it if I thought it would be too tough. In the safety of the counselling room, with the core conditions met by Anna, I was able to process the prospect of the treatment. During one session I had a light-bulb moment that, should I get through this, I too could help people as Anna was helping me.
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In September 2018, I was advised I was in remission and have been since. I immediately enrolled on an introduction to counselling course. I followed that with a level three course, and then decided to apply to do a degree in counselling.
During this three-year period, while I was physically recovering from my cancer treatment (which turned out to be as brutal as described), and mentally recovering from the impact that cancer leaves, I was also dealing with an extremely expensive and stressful employment tribunal, after being treated so poorly by my employer of 13 years during my illness that I was forced to resign. The outcome was successful, but there were times when I was so exhausted I didn’t want to proceed. It was knowing that I could turn to my new-found ‘magic’ that kept me going.
By this point, Anna had retired and I started with a new counsellor. Unfortunately the relationship didn’t feel the same, and neither did the magic, but as I have since learned, that’s just how it is sometimes. I found a new counsellor who was a former oncology nurse and had administered the ‘brutal treatment’ in the past. We never discussed this but I felt understood, safe and held again. The experience of doing the counselling degree, although hard work, massively helped too, and I took so much away from our group personal development sessions.
I am now a fully qualified counsellor, finding a niche in working with cancer, illness, loss and grief. Thanks to counselling, I have the awareness of how to deal with stressful times, especially around my six-monthly scans. I don’t bottle it up, I talk about how I feel – it’s not always with a counsellor but often is.
I am no longer the person who doesn’t speak about how I feel. I am much more confident opening up and allowing vulnerability, which in turn allows that magic to happen – that shift in perspective that changes everything. A former nightclub manager once said to me, ‘You’re all black and white and no grey.’ Not anymore – thanks to counselling, I’m now fine with ‘grey’, and I’m so grateful.
* Name has been changed