Shelley Downes' Story
In 2016, Shelley lost her father, Christopher, from lung cancer. She decided to fulfil an ambition - to abseil down the icon Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, raising money for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. This is her story.
Our dad was a hardworking man. He was a self-employed painter and decorator. For as long as I can remember he never had time off work due to illness until about eight years ago when he fell ill. Doctors first thought he had TB then pneumonia, but was later diagnosed with pulmonary aspergillosis (a lung fungi), and was given medication to control this. Then, four years ago, he had a mild stroke that effected his sight in one eye for a short period of time.
He was the best dad we could have asked for and he always worked hard to provide for us. He was overjoyed when he became a grandad and there was nothing he wouldn’t have done for his five grandchildren. My daughter always remembers going to the seaside (Ingoldmells) with Grandad and staying in Grandad and Grandma’s caravan. He loved going to the east coast at the weekend and staying in his caravan. My parents were planning to move there after retirement, but they eventually had to sell the caravan due to my dad’s ill health. Our dad was 100% a family man and he would always help others whenever he could. He was a 'softy' and had an absolute heart of gold.
When my dad fell first fell ill he was convinced then that he had lung cancer as he has smoked since he was very young. Then, during Christmas 2015, he kept getting a pain in his ribs that wouldn’t go away. He eventually went to see his GP in January who sent him for a scan and this showed something near his lung. He was referred for a biopsy within a couple of weeks.
I went with him for his biopsy and it was there that I noticed how much weight he had actually lost and it really shocked me. He always used to wear big jackets and cardigans and looking back I think he did this to hide how thin he actually was. He got his results on the 19th of February 2016, which was a day before his 70th birthday. This was when he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the lung.
He was told he was palliative due to the stage it was at and they were going to offer him palliative radiotherapy in the hope that the tumour would reduce slightly and prevent him from being in anymore pain. The doctors ruled out operating to remove that part of the effected lung due to the problem with his other lung. It took just over a month for him to be fully diagnosed, and from the date of diagnosis he heartbreakingly passed away 5 weeks later in hospital with all of his family by his side.
My dad didn’t seem shocked at all by his diagnosis. I think deep down he knew for a while what was wrong. My mum was with him when he got the news and she was in shock. Both my brothers and I were devastated. Before I was told he was palliative I knew the outcome wouldn’t be good for my dad as I’m a community nurse myself, and my colleagues have looked after patients with lung cancer. I also kept thinking that my dad is never going to get the chance to walk his daughter down the aisle. I was heartbroken for him, wondering exactly what he was thinking and how he was going to cope.
Abseiling Down Liverpool Cathedral
We first heard about Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation in the media. As a family we found the literature my dad was given from the charity during diagnosis brilliant and very informative as it answered a lot of our worries. We also went onto the website to get more information regarding dietary advice due to my dad’s rapid weight loss and help financially for my parents.
I have always wanted to do an abseil but never really had any reason to do it but when I saw all the fundraising Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation did to raise money I thought it would be a great way to remember our dad and raise money in his memory at the same time.
Initially I was excited to do the abseil as I had my dad’s memory to motivate me but I was also worried at that time thinking that nobody would sponsor me but thankfully we managed to raise £413.75 from supportive friends and family.
My partner and my two children along with my friend Sarah came to Liverpool to support me during the abseil. I was quite emotional beforehand and when I was at the top I was absolutely terrified, but knowing I was doing this for my dad spurred me on. I’m sure my dad would have been looking down on me thinking I was crazy and having a good chuckle when I was panicking at the top! I’m sure he would have been proud of me though.
For anyone who has just had a loved one diagnosed with lung cancer, the best advice I could give would be ask as many questions as you can. Don’t be afraid as the health professionals are there to provide support for the family as well as the patient and are happy to answer any queries. I’d also recommend going on Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s website for information with regards to treatment and support - emotionally and financially.
Most importantly though, be there for the loved one. My dad was the type of person who didn’t want a fuss made so I made sure we didn’t focus too much on the diagnosis but instead acted as normal as possible. It’s what he wanted.