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Diana's story

Diana, who took part in our digital storytelling programme with Macmillan Cancer Support, shares her experience of the project

Snail with a spiral shell on a stony beach

Our Digital Storytelling project with Macmillan Cancer Support offers online workshops to help people affected by cancer tell their stories. In her digital stories 'I Can't Do Half As Much, In Twice The Time' and 'Time and Patience Is Always Required', Diana talks about how cancer impacted her work and personal responsibilities.

For a long time, in my cancer journey, I locked away all my feelings and thoughts, kept my blinkers on, head down. I tried my best to fulfil the demands on my efforts and time – work, voluntary club and organisation work – putting myself at the back of the queue.

My Dad gave up a chance of a new life in the United States after his National Service, to help his Mum look after his Dad. Bowel cancer treatment in the early 1960's was basic. My grandfather suffered and deteriorated for 2 years. Any mention of cancer after that, Dad would always say 'I hope it is quick.' He was haunted by the suffering he could do nothing about. Dad was very fond of his in-laws, his father-in-law passed away in a matter of weeks after a lung cancer diagnosis in 1994.

Dad felt 'not right' in May 2014. Then test after test resulted in the worst news – bowel cancer that had spread to his liver and lungs. Some tablets helped him feel better for a while. I fiercely tried to question and protect him, but he wanted to carry on as he had been, running errands for those more able and capable. 'Going Home', the theme from Local Hero was played at his funeral, because that's what he was, to a lot of people, many at his service, but especially to me. 

Clearing his house added to my burdens. I began to feel exhausted all the time. I set myself deadlines, promised myself a holiday, just a few days, if I got it done. I failed miserably, so no days off for me. A lump appeared, but head down, I was busy. Six weeks later, I confided in a friend, who made me promise I would seek advice, but after another busy time. Within 10 days of the initial appointment at my doctor's surgery, I had my own cancer diagnosis. Treatable and curable, but what they didn't hint at, was I would never be the same person again. 

The persistent multi-tasker was broken. If I wasn't fulfilling all the demands, I was a failure. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get things done, as quick as I wanted. My cancer was triggered by stress and I believe grief. Within a year of taking Dad to the cancer clinic, I was visiting it myself. I was putting myself in a very stressful place again, and I wouldn't say 'no' to anyone, I just kept trying to spin all the plates on the wobbly sticks. 

Covid lockdown was an enforcement for me to slow down. I was getting to work from home and other demands had been closed, any meetings were online. Always a follower of Macmillan Cancer Support, I saw an advert for the Digital Storytelling Project in partnership with Scottish Book Trust and joined a workshop.

The group was a safe place to share stories. I stopped feeling alone. After a few false starts and rambles, I had a story I was happy to tell and share. Morag and Chris did all the technical wizardry, 'I Can't Do Half As Much, In Twice The Time(this link will open in a new window)' was something I had been saying, and it rang true with other cancer survivors. 

I had registered an interest in a second workshop, which would explore 'Cancer and Work' stories. My poor experience of returning to work paved the way for changes with my employer, for more sympathy and better understanding for others. What wasn't well understood or appreciated, by me included, was the inability to function as I had pre-cancer. 

How can an employer create the best conditions for someone who wants to work but has to navigate new physical and mental challenges?

Is a change of duties appropriate? 

A lot more thought and sympathy is required to allow a survivor to return to work. Because they do want to work, they are just sometimes not able to do the tasks they once did – even if they look like they used to on the outside. Appearances are very deceptive. After being at the mercy of medics, riding the cancer treatment conveyor belt, for survivors to feel like they can add value to society and the workplace again is worth far more than any prescribed medicine. 

This time the facilitators included Di from Macmillan Cancer Support, which I found a bit confusing as I tend to be called that. My storytelling group again, had their own stories to tell, and sadly not positive experiences with employers. Suggestions were made to address short-falls, to assist a survivor beyond the final treatment day at hospital. 'Time and Patience Is Always Required'(this link will open in a new window) was recorded. 

I have made a lot of mistakes and it took years to tell my cancer story, and say how I felt. I feel like a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders, and I believe I am a better person for having told my story. Telling my stories has made a huge difference to me; I am more realistic on my achievable goals.

If, by sharing my stories, it saves one person from the trials I faced and put myself through, I will feel I have made a difference for others. I have also now applied to be a volunteer Telephone Buddy with Macmillan!

Watch more stories on our digital storytelling website.(this link will open in a new window)

Get involved

We've partnered with Macmillan Cancer Support to offer free, online digital storytelling workshops for people affected by cancer. Whether you've had a diagnosis or known someone who has, our storytelling workshops are a free, safe way to try out storytelling in a small group.

Find out more about the project

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