Carolyn Whittaker

This year, Carolyn Whittaker has been hard at work fundraising for Leukaemia Care. She has been doing so in memory of her husband, Roger, and here she shares Roger’s story.

In the beginning of 2013, I noticed my husband Roger was always falling asleep and losing weight. We went away at the end of February for a few days and ended up at Bangor Hospital as he had a massive nose bleed. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it as he had them frequently due to polyps, but we went to the hospital anyway as he lost a large clot and we couldn’t stem the bleeding.

Throughout March, Roger was still falling asleep and losing weight, but didn’t feel ill and still had an appetite, so I told him to go to the doctors and get some bloods taken. That day he was working the late shift, 2:00-10:00pm, so he went first thing in the morning and afterwards went to work as normal. At around 3:30-4:00pm the surgery rang and wanted to see Roger straightaway. I rang him and asked him to leave work as the doctors needed to see him urgently. After that we went straight to the doctors, and they told us that something wasn’t right, it was serious, and that Roger might have lymphoma, but they needed to do some further tests. The tests were coming through quick and furious; he had a scan on his belly and we went to see the haematologist who said maybe it was a vitamin B12 deficiency, but a bone marrow test would tell us.

Roger had a bone marrow test and we went back a few days later. They called us in and I knew straightaway something was wrong as there was two of them in the room; I later found out that one of them was a Macmillan nurse.

That day (16th May 2013) is the day our world fell apart, and what should have been a happy time, as we had welcomed a new arrival into the family on the 6th May, was instead the day we were told that Roger had acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). He was to be admitted to hospital the day after to have a Hickman line fitted and was told he needed to start treatment straight away. We left the hospital in a daze like it was a dream and happening to somebody else.

The Hickman line kept getting put back, so it was over a week before he started his treatment. He never responded well to the chemotherapy—he had lots of strange side effects—and I think he had the most photographed body in the hospital for his lumps, bumps and rashes.

We nearly lost him in the July due to a blood clot that they couldn’t operate on as he wouldn’t withstand the anaesthetic and probably would have bled out. He came around from that but still ended up being in hospital more than he was at home. The ward was fantastic; they looked after us as a family as well as Roger. He came home the odd weekend, but it was very rare.

The chemotherapy didn’t work, so they put him on the Vidaza injections, but again he didn’t respond as well as we thought. We watched a strong hardworking man end up frail in a wheelchair, and at the end of March 2014 I broke down to his Macmillan nurse, Sally, and said, “I don’t think it’s working” and she said that his consultant wanted to do the last round of Vidaza injections. I said, “Roger thinks this is the miracle one and it will be all gone, and he will come home and go back to work on the Monday.”

On the 2nd of April 2014, I received a phone call to say they wanted a family meeting on the 3rd. I knew in my heart what it was. The next day the consultant told Roger the treatment wasn’t working, and they were withdrawing it. He looked at me and just said, “We will get through this babe.” I said, “You’re not listening, it’s now quality rather than quantity.” He looked at our daughter who was crying and he said, “Right, well I want to go home and want to be at home for tomorrow as it’s our wedding anniversary.” He got his wish and was released on the Friday, they pulled out all the stops, without them he would have been released on the Monday.

Our palliative care was second to none, we had some excellent people looking after not just Roger but us all. Roger had good days and bad days; he was happy to hear that we were getting a new grand-baby in the October, our son Chris’s first baby. Family was everything to Roger. We managed a few days out, including Blackpool for fish and chips as he loved them. We also took him for an ice cream at a favourite beauty spot that he loved going to.

Our daughter Amy was planning on getting married in 2014, but she wanted her dad to walk her down the aisle, so she couldn’t really book anything or settle on a date due because of his treatment. Amy and her fiancé Glen came and spoke to us and asked how we would feel about them getting married on their already booked holiday to Cyprus. Roger just said, “Go and make me proud.” He took his wedding ring off and gave it to Glen and said here use this as you won’t have time to get one.

When the day came for Amy to go away with her little family, Glen, Olivia (then five) and Harry (11 months), she didn’t want to leave, but she thought her dad had months left not days and thought he would still be here when she got back or she wouldn’t have gone, but I told her he was doing okay and holding his own.

On 23rd April, Roger wasn’t too good. He was coughing up blood and in pain, certainly the worst he had been. He’d had a few visitors and a night sitter was arranged. As the day went on, we were excited as it was the day of the wedding, and at 7pm we got a phone call to say it had been a lovely day, and everything went to plan, our baby girl was married.

As the evening went on Roger seemed to be in more pain, so I called the district nurses out and they were going to put the syringed driver in. At 9pm the night sitter turned up, I introduced her to Roger, who was kicking the covers off, I thought he was having a rigor, so I went and got the thermometer and popped it in his mouth. For some reason, this one wasn’t working, so I went to get a new one out of the cupboard, popped it in his mouth and he took his last breath.

To make matters worse, our Olivia got chickenpox while away, so she was grounded. Amy returned with Harry and Glen stayed with Olivia in Cyprus.

On the 23rd of April 2014 I lost not just my husband but my best friend. We had been together 30 years and married 27, we did everything together.

Since then Amy has completed a skydive in memory of her dad, and this year Amy and I decided we would start fundraising for Leukaemia Care. They had put on their Facebook page that they had a blood drop crochet pattern called Bob, and as I love to knit/crochet, I thought this was the perfect thing for us to get involved in.

From this we organised a ‘Red Day’ and started selling my crocheted Bob’s, as well as other crocheted items, and held a unicorn raffle where we asked people to guess the name of the beautifully crocheted unicorn for a chance to win him. This event raised £452 for Leukaemia Care. I have carried on crocheting for Leukaemia Care and have kept Claire in their Fundraising team up to date with what I have been up to. I also recently knitted a family of Bob’s (which I sent to the LC offices) and 30 Baby Bob’s for them to sell on their eBay page to raise further funds.

In the New Year, I plan on doing more for Leukaemia Care.

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