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Writing can help

Louise Gough was first diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2012. Her cancer has come back for a third time and she’s pinning her hopes on her very last cycle of chemotherapy – but keeps on smiling.

The young Belfast mum is tremendously supported by her friends and family, particularly husband Mark and their two boys, Darren (13) and Tony (9). But she also has important extra support from Cancer Focus NI. She says our counselling service is a real ‘safety net’, and our writing service is a valuable emotional outlet.

Louise first realised something was wrong when she got a pain in her stomach, which got worse over time. “My GP send me to hospital where I had an X-ray and was told I had a twisted bowel,” she says.

Eventually, the beauty salon receptionist was admitted for more X-rays. blood tests and a CT scan.

After the tests, a surgeon spoke to me and Mark. He said I had tumours in my bowel and liver and he was 99% certain it was bowel cancer,” she recalls.

“Mark was devastated but it just didn’t register with me,” she recalls. “The surgeon was very frank and didn’t sugar coat anything. He started to talk about life expectancy, but I stopped him in his tracks. I didn’t want to hear that – I said if there was anything they could do to help me, just do it.”

Louise had an operation to remove the tumour in her bowel and then 12 cycles of chemotherapy over six months, which shrank the tumours in her liver.

Two years ago, she had surgery on her liver. “I was very up-beat, I’m a strong, cup-half-full sort of person. As long as the doctors were saying there was a chance, I was determined to plough on.

“Then, I had another operation on my gall bladder and spleen, which was touch and go. I hit a brick wall – I just couldn’t get back on my feet as quickly as before.”

Everything was okay for a while, but then scans showed spots on her lungs and stomach. She has started chemo again – but this will be her last round. “It needs to work this time,” she admits, “It’s a real reality check.”

“As soon as I think that I may not be around to see Darren go to university, or see another Mother’s Day, I quickly shove them out again. Tony knows mummy’s belly is sick, but the doctors are helping,” she says.

Louise felt she needed to speak to a counsellor, both for herself and because she didn’t want to overburden her loved ones. “I needed answers to help my family. My body wasn’t the one I used to know so well, I was so scared and in a dark place. I just wanted to scream ‘help’ for as long and as loud as I possibly could.”

Our counsellor helps her understand that her thoughts are normal and to look at things in a different way. He gives her guidance and strength, and helps her let the old Louise go and accept the new Louise.

Louise also takes part in our Writing My Cancer Journey sessions, which helps you express what’s in your heart and mind. She’s made important new friends who’re going through similar experiences.

“I found I could write things I didn’t think I was capable of. It’s helped rebuild my confidence and look at things in a new way. Other patients have told me that they look at cancer as a gift, that’s changed their outlook on life, and this attitude has helped me deal with everything I’ve been going through.

“I have a genuine smile and am forever the optimist, but a realist too. As soon as a negative thought pops into my head, I get rid of it and enjoy what I have now.”

If you would like to join our writing course, art therapy or art journaling, please call us on 028 9066 3281 or email care@cancerfocusni.org.