A FATHER-of-three diagnosed with incurable cancer before his 50th birthday is encouraging other men not be afraid to reach out for help.
Stuart Riddell, now 53, was dealt a devastating blow in 2013 when he was told he had late stage cancer. Describing himself as a typical “middle-aged bloke” he thought cancer help centre Maggie’s was “not for him”.
But when he found out his bowel cancer was at an advanced stage he knew he needed more than just medical help. He stumbled across the road from the Western General to the Maggie’s Centre, where the dedicated team offered him a lifeline when he was at his lowest.
And to ensure the centre can continue to offer vital support to an additional 5000 people a year, he has organised a fundraising ceilidh to help in the Buy a Brick campaign.
The Evening News has teamed up with Maggie’s for the Buy a Brick appeal, which aims to raise more than £750,000 to extend the centre.
The ceilidh, held for the first time last year, raised a staggering £11,000 for Maggie’s and Stuart hopes to be able to hand over a similarly sizable cheque this year for the “incredible” centre.
“There is a sense of calm reassurance from the minute you walk in,” he said.
“It really hit home to me how effective and how important Maggie’s was when I was moved from the surgical unit after having one tumour removed, to oncology and was told my second tumour was treatable. I sauntered into my appointment thinking I’d be stage two, and if I was unlucky maybe stage three.”
Stuart was told that although his second tumour, which was wrapped around a major artery, was treatable, the cancer was at an advanced stage.
He said: “I was in total shock to be told that I was stage four. Up until that point I had a sense of bravado but being told those three words – stage-four cancer – was like all the hope just disappeared in an instant.”
Maggie’s Centre offers tailored men’s group sessions which helped Stuart find ways to cope with a diagnosis he had not anticipated.
“All the hope that had been extinguished and ten minutes after being at Maggie’s,” he said. “I started feeling like all hope wasn’t gone but they helped me order my thoughts.
“It really is a remarkable place and it is run by an incredible team of staff and volunteers – they are incredible.”
The men’s groups which are run once a week offer a space for people to talk to others who are in a similar situation, to share experiences and to express emotions.
“I suspect there is a reluctance on the part of many men to go in and talk about their feelings,” Stuart said.
“But at the men’s group, we are all in the same boat whether it is incurable or a terminal diagnosis. I went along for a year, every Monday, and it was a room full of stereotypical blokes who would not previously have sat and discussed their feelings, but it was a fantastic group and there’s a comfort in being there for each other.”
The centres also offer art groups, rest and relaxation classes, benefits advice and for Stuart the nutrition classes really gave him a practical focus.
“What you eat is so important. I didn’t tick any of the risk boxes for cancer, I exercised, I didn’t smoke and I ate reasonably well but from the classes I really learnt the importance of what you eat.”
Support from his wife Alison, and children Duncan, 22, Louise, 20, and Claire, 16, helped pull him through and the whole family is involved in fundraising for Maggie’s.
Stuart said: “My wife works at George Watson’s College and we are very appreciative for their help in providing the hall for the ceilidh for free. The children will also be helping flog raffle tickets at the event.”
And it was for his family that Stuart tried to clear the fog created by his shock diagnosis. He said: “Cancer is such total madness. There is so much information and so many thoughts in your head. Maggie’s provides a bit of sanity amongst that madness to help you to figure out your thoughts.”
Stuart was diagnosed after grumbling in his stomach turned to more severe pain, followed by a rapid weight loss. An emergency scan revealed he had two tumours, only one of which they could remove. He underwent a major operation two days later before enduring six cycles of chemotherapy followed by five weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
But he has now reached an unexpected milestone – three years since the end of treatment. “I actually I didn’t expect to get here so I am extremely lucky,” Stuart admitted.
“The fear is always in the back of your mind but I learnt to keep it at the back. Finding your own way to deal with it is the most important thing and visiting Maggie’s was immensely helpful.