Healthcare news

Lisburn family's ordeal as husband, wife and daughter all battle cancer

Three members of the same Co Down family have each battled cancer, including a father and daughter diagnosed this year. They spoke to Brendan Hughes of their personal struggle

Joan and Colin Henderson with their daughter Jenny Dalzell, centre. Picture by Mal McCann

JUST months ago Colin Henderson was extremely fit, active and enjoying retirement, taking part in the likes of a "mountain marathon" and a charity cycle around Lough Neagh.

But the 68-year-old noticed he was rapidly losing weight, and within weeks became ill and jaundiced.

After seeking medical advice, his fears were confirmed. Mr Henderson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He was "very much aware of the symptoms", he said. Around four years ago, his friend died aged 60 within six months of receiving the same diagnosis.

"I'm a fit person normally. I would be in the gym or doing some sport every day. But in September I noticed a dramatic weight loss – a kilogram a week," he said.

"Within a period of two-to-three weeks I went from running in marathons to being very ill."

Helped by his fitness levels, the former education board youth officer was able to have whipple surgery in a bid to remove the cancer.

The grandfather-of-four, whose weight dropped from around 11 stone to nine, underwent a five-hour operation at Belfast's Mater hospital earlier this month.

"I have a fighting chance now. I still have to go through chemotherapy but it will be post-Christmas. And then there could be radiotherapy," he said.

One such ordeal would be enough for any family, but it's not the first time – or even the first time this year – the Hendersons have faced down cancer.

In April Mr Henderson's daughter, mother-of-two Jenny Dalzell (35), was diagnosed with breast cancer. The self-employed hairdresser underwent surgery and has received chemotherapy.

And in 2000, his wife Joan (66) had surgery that removed mobility in her neck after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the blood cells.

The Lisburn family want to thank medical staff for their care and support – and warn others to be aware of symptoms and have regular health checks.

Mr Henderson admitted the past few months have been a shock, but he's remaining positive.

"I couldn't believe three members of the one family could have cancer. There's part of you wants to be angry, to blame, but there's nobody to be angry with. It's just a very hard fact of life," he said.

"I have always been a healthy person. I don't smoke, I take the odd glass of wine, so it's just a random thing."

He added: "I do believe you have got to take a positive approach to this. You have got to be prepared to fight it and to think positively.

"The fact that my wife had gone through the cancer and she has been a positive role model in terms of attitude has helped me to deal with it."

Mrs Henderson's surgery involved having a metal plate inserted in her neck. Since her cancer battle, she left teaching and took up wood turning, selling items she makes for charity.

She is now in remission, but said it has been "devastating" to see her husband and daughter also facing cancer.

"It has been pretty awful. Jenny, she doesn't have good health with the fibromyalgia (a condition that causes pain all over the body), but she battles through it. She's a single mum with two young children so it was devastating," she said.

But the former Maghaberry Primary School teacher added: "You just have to get on with it and do what you can."

Mr Henderson also praised the "exceptional medical team" in Ward F of the Mater Hospital for "their skills, support and kindness".

"My family and I are most grateful for this support and from the diagnostic team at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Macmillan nurses," he added.

He encouraged people to be aware of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer by visiting websites such as pancreaticcanceraction.org.

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