With her father battling stage three colorectal cancer more than 7,000 miles away in South Africa, Helen McCabe has often felt too distant to help.
The 35-year-old trainee solicitor, who works at law firm DLA Piper in Leeds, has had to watch her beloved dad fight the life-threatening disease largely through the far removed lens of Skype conversations and phone calls.
Helen’s Durban-based father Danny, 65, underwent tests after experiencing piles in March 2015 but further investigations revealed he had a tumours on his colon and liver, and a possible lesion on his lung.
The business logistics entrepreneur has since been through three major operations to have tumours removed and a stoma temporarily fitted.
In November, during a procedure to remove the stoma – a device which diverts urine and faeces into a bag outside the body – Danny went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated.
All the while his daughter, a former NHS physiotherapist who has lived in the UK for 18 years, has been doing her best to support her dad largely from afar while he recovered from serious operations and three rounds of draining chemotherapy.
“I just felt too far away,” she said. “He would have his bad days where he would Skype and would literally be falling asleep.
“He got ulcers in his mouth, nose, ears and everywhere you can think of as a result of the chemo.”
Helen has since been back to South Africa three times, including once with support from DLA Piper, in a bid to help her dad, stepmother and younger brother.
But Danny’s treatment has taken a toll on his body. He lost 30kg within months of his diagnosis, and his busy work life and regular gym visits all but disappeared.
Despite positivity from the medical team supporting Danny, Helen’s medical background has meant that her understanding of her father’s initial diagnosis has been hard to digest.
“I’ve had friends and family for support which is good,” she said. “Friends are very supportive and sympathetic but they don’t always know what to say because they understand the medical terminology and look at it and think, ‘oh no’.”
It was only when DLA Piper announced a charity partnership with the Maggie’s charity earlier this year that she began to realise her family was not alone.
Maggie’s online support forums, blogs and advice resources aimed at both people with a cancer diagnosis and their families and friends have become invaluable to Helen.
Aspirations for a Maggie’s Yorkshire cancer support centre based in Leeds have also provided some comfort ahead of what seems an uncertain future.
“It was quite an eye opener,” she said. “I’m genuinely quite a reserved person, I don’t like not controlling things and it’s almost quite nice to have that other side.
“If dad or my stepmum have any queries they ask me or my older brother but there’s a part of you that wants to sit down and tell someone that you feel a bit rubbish as well.”
The Yorkshire Evening Post is aiming to ensure that the people of Yorkshire have access to their own Maggie’s support facility through the A Million for Maggie’s campaign.
We are urging readers to help the charity raise £1million so that people with cancer, as well as their families and friends, can access no-questions-asked support literally yards from the doors of Leeds St James’s Hospital’s Bexley Wing cancer unit. The Maggie’s Yorkshire centre will offer free practical, emotional and social support to people in a non-clinical, friendly setting.
“Dad’s got access to the best people, they have been great, but there’s a lack of the in-between care in South Africa,” Helen added. “In South Africa it’s medical or it isn’t – you either phone the doctor or just get on with it.
“Over here Maggie’s makes it more normal. It’s not going into a hospital or going to a hospice or specialist clinic, it’s just being sat around the table and having a chat.
“You always feel you shouldn’t be intruding on that sort of service but that’s not the feeling you get from Maggie’s – it’s for everyone.”
- See tomorrow’s Yorkshire Evening Post for more about Maggie’s journey to Leeds so far and how the new Yorkshire centre is hoped to transform cancer support in the region.
How to get involved
We are determined to raise A Million for Maggie’s – and here’s how you can help.
You could take on a personal challenge, organise bake offs, concerts, charity quizzes or other events while donating the proceeds to our appeal.
Your company could set up a corporate partnership with the appeal, donating employees’ skills or time, or matching employee fundraising.
You can make a one-off gift of £5 or £10 to Maggie’s Yorkshire by texting MYEP99 £5 or MYEP99 £10 to 70070, or by sending a cheque payable to Maggie’s centres to, c/o Ben Feely, Maggie’s Centres, The Gatehouse, 10 Dumbarton Road, Glasgow, G11 6PA, with the reference: YEP A Million for Maggie’s.
For more click the ‘campaigns’ tab at yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk, visit maggiescentres.org/millionformaggies or follow @maggiesyorks on Twitter or see facebook.com/maggiesyorkshire.
If you have any exciting fundraisers planned, or would like any help or support, email [email protected]
To access the online centre visit maggiescentres.org/our-centres/maggies-online-centre.