David: Dealing with an end-of-life diagnosis

Imagine you were given only three months to live. What would you wish for? You may wish to be able to move your partner and children closer to family, so they have the support they need. We may wish for somebody to talk to, who is able to share advice in these difficult times. This was a reality for David who was given three to six months to live after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) at the end of 2021.

Please be aware that David’s story is tough to read and involves end-of-life discussion.  

In 1973, at the age of 17, David survived a large plane disaster. Out of the 37 people that survived the crash, David pulled seven to safety, including his own mother. Unfortunately, his uncle was one of the 108 that tragically died from the plane crash.  

He was awarded a medal from Buckingham Palace for his brave and heroic act, however, living with the aftermath of the crash gave David an outlook that life doesn’t play fair. 

“It does go wrong. It doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to. When you’re 17, you just imagine, “Oh I’ll get married, kids, a job…” but after that day I’m always looking around the next corner, so I’ve always got a boost of energy kept back for emergencies. 

That day gave me my starting power. I’ve fought all my life; I’ve got two disabled boys which have kept me alive and strong, and now I’m married to a beautiful wife.” 

David was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in September 2021, after his stomach and back were covered in red blotches. “I went to the hospital. I was in no pain; I was feeling quite well! I went to see the nurse late at night and he asked, “Have you had a fall?”  

I told him that I hadn’t, and the doctor initially refused to believe I was telling the truth but took some blood just to be sure. I insisted that something was wrong, and he believed me. An hour later, I was called back and told my white blood cell count was considerably low and was booked in for an emergency appointment the next day. I had blood and bone marrow tests and was later told it was leukaemia.” 

David was told his AML was incurable and was given three to six months to live. 

“People like me have got to leave my wife and children. I’m 65, so I’ve been alive not that long when you think about it, and I’ve got to leave my wife and everything else. So, I was numb from head to toe when I was told. 

My plane’s still going to crash so I’ve got to get everybody ready before then. 

I rang social services and they didn’t know what to do. However, they told me I could talk to somebody. I couldn’t see the point in that.  

I rang income support to see if I could get some extra money so I could move to Bristol so my wife and children could be closer to family. They wouldn’t help me. Nobody would. Then, I went to the Lodge Cancer Support and Information Centre in the South West, and they suggested I ring Leukaemia Care.  

I rang Leukaemia Care and a lady came on the phone – Lisa – a name I’ll never forget. She told me not to worry about what I was saying and just to tell her how I was feeling, what was going on inside. “It doesn’t matter what you want,” she said, “Just talk to me, if you need help, we’ll talk.” So, I told her my exact situation. I told her that I’ve got no family down where I live in South West, nobody for my wife and children to talk to. The rest of my family live in Bristol, and I want to move my family up there. She said Leukaemia Care would try and help me. 

The council has been brilliant and found me a place in Bristol, and Lisa has found me the money to get there, paying for transport and moving costs. She’s there all the time, I can ring her up and speak to her and she’ll put me on the right path and she’s just somebody to talk to. Just that first step of picking up the phone to ring Leukaemia Care was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. This is my last chance in life, I’ve got nowhere else to go. I wasn’t going to put my wife and children through that situation. Lisa and I were on that phone for a good hour or two and she made me feel good about myself, that I wasn’t just useless.  

I have tried my best and my plane actually did start leaving the ground a little bit.  

I just lost a friend to leukaemia. He never contacted any charities and got so bothered with it, so tied down with it, he overdosed. He thought he could not cope and pass on his problems to anyone else. If he picked that phone up, perhaps it could have saved him. That’s why I’m doing this, so it gets out to the other people in my situation. 

You can’t come to terms with it when they tell you you’re incurable. But you’re not worried about yourself because your time has gone. So, you’re trying to make arrangements for your loved ones and the people around you who are still here. I’ve got to care now for my wife and two sons as I won’t be here and that’s why I picked that phone up. My wife and children will now have support and our family can help her cope with the situation until me and my wife are put back together again. We will be put back together again in time, I totally believe that.  

If people take one thing away, they should know that there are people out there that will listen, that care. Let somebody listen to you and try and help.  

You’re not stuck on a mountain covered in snow. The whole world is not covered in snow, there’s a branch you can cling onto. You’ve just got to grab that branch and pull yourself into the warmth. 

I know the people out there putting their pennies and ten-pence in Leukaemia Care collection tins and buckets think it’s nothing. It’s not nothing. It’s a little prayer to God to help us fight this. From people like me, or people who are living with leukaemia, and from families who lost loved ones to leukaemia, we are thanking you from the bottom of our hearts and please don’t stop.  

From me and my family, for everybody that puts 10 pence in that box, thank you very much, and God bless you.  

I know that people are going to read this and wonder, “What does he mean by the plane?” But they’ll have something from their past that they cling onto, and they’ll know what I mean. It might be a boat, a house, a loved one. They’ll know.”  

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