Living with Cancer and Dementia, Memories of Brian shared by his wife June Hennell MBE

Discussion in 'Caring for a person with dementia and cancer' started by molliep, Feb 28, 2019.

  1. molliep

    molliep Researcher

    Aug 16, 2018
    #1 molliep, Feb 28, 2019
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2019
    Living with Cancer and Dementia, Memories of Brian shared by his wife June Hennell MBE

    Below are some memories and reflections shared by June Hennell, who cared for her husband Brian with both cancer and dementia.


    '“Are you sure that I've got cancer? I've already got dementia you know, isn't that enough? Do I really need something else?” - Words spoken by my husband Brian on receipt of his aggressive prostate cancer diagnosis.

    Oh! No, I don't think at all about having cancer. After all, it doesn't affect me and I just forget about it.” - Response to his son asking how he felt.

    Where are we going today darling?” - This was the question asked on day 1 of 35 successive visits to a hospital 35 minutes away for radical radiotherapy. “To the hospital” I replied. “For you or for me?” he replied. He had forgotten the cancer treatment plan. Brian asked the same question every morning for 35 days as we left the house.

    “Aren't these staff wonderful?” commented Brian as the radiographer called “June and Brian Hennell” into the treatment room. By recognising how important it was for me, as Brian’s carer, to accompany him to the corridor outside of the radiotherapy room, the radiographer honoured his state of well-being and enabled Brian to stay calm, dementia or not. I was the last person he saw and the first person he saw as he entered and exited the room.


    “I haven't seen old Tom lately” said Brian. “No” I replied, “probably because he died five years ago.” “Thank goodness”, said Brian “not that I am pleased he died but it is one more thing that I haven't forgotten, seeing him I mean. What did he die of?” “Cancer” I replied. “Oh!” said Brian. “I wonder what it is like to have cancer. Painful? I can't imagine”. This conversation was mid-way through his daily cancer treatment.

    How old is Jack?” asked Brian one day about our dog. “10 years old” I replied. “Oh good” said Brian. “I'm 75 so that means that I'll be about 83 years old when he dies. I wouldn't want him to die when I wasn't here”. Faced with his incredible optimism, I forced a smile. Brian died five months later.

    Happy Christmas everyone” said Brian on New Year's Eve 2012/13 as the family gathered for the anticipated last of such occasions. Brian had forgotten that we had enjoyed our last Christmas together a mere five days ago.


    These are just a few of my memories of conversations with Brian over a period of just two years in which he lived with dementia and cancer. An intelligent man, dementia never robbed him of his sense of humour but did him the enormous favour of preventing him recognising that he was on a palliative care pathway. Ever the optimist, he would have gone anywhere and done anything as long as I was by his side, dementia nor cancer being a deterrent. I continued the two of us having broad horizons and manageable stimulation until he became too weak to participate. My continuing regret is that no one warned us of the potential deterioration to his ‘dementia’ well-being which may be a result of the cancer treatment decreasing the effectiveness of his dementia medication. Results were devastating... for next time?'

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  2. chickenlady

    chickenlady Registered User

    Feb 28, 2016
    What lovely memories, you are so lucky to have these funny memories to share, mt Father also kept his sense of humour right to the end and for that I'm eternally grateful. I lost count of how many times he asked me how old he was and replied, "Never!" when I told him he was 91.
  3. Grable

    Grable Registered User

    May 19, 2015
    Brian sounds like a fantastic chap! Thank you for sharing these memories.

    In case others read his story and feel that they might, somehow, be at fault for a lack of optimism in their own loved one, I will add my own story.

    My mum had oesophageal cancer and vascular dementia. Very early on in the progress of her dementia, she lost the ability to martial her thoughts into sentences, she would start a sentence and then get lost in it or she would simply lose the words she needed to express herself. This was devastating for somebody who had been an outgoing, chatty woman with lots of friends. The cancer meant that she was no longer able to enjoy her food - another of her pleasures.

    Because she wasn't able to cope on her own in the house (Dad had died some 14 years previously), and neither my brother nor I could accommodate her, we had to find a care home for her. She sat in that care home from July 2016 to April 2017, unable to communicate with anybody, but still following everything that was going on with her usual intelligent eyes. I knew she was still thinking and knew exactly what was going on, she just couldn't form those thoughts into a logical order and express them. I often wished she could lose the ability to think!

    As bad as the cancer was, I'm certain that, had she not had the dementia, Mum would have coped much better.

    I still miss Mum dreadfully and, when I'm going through a low spell, I get the guilty feeling that I should have been able to do more to make her last year more comfortable - but when I'm feeling more rational, I know that I did my best for her, and I hope she knew that, too!

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