It’s more than 10 months since our last blog and much has happened in that time. The last time I wrote was just before Droitwich Food & Drink Festival 2018, and we’d just had a wonderful sequence of good news. 10 months on and it’s fair to say that much has changed, but also very little. I’ll try and explain…
As a business, Wychbold Fudge was going well and we again had a fantastic Droitwich Food & Drink Festival. For us as a family, Helga was on a treatment that was proving hugely effective in controlling her incurable cancer. The tumours in her abdomen had shrunk significantly, the tumours on her brain had not returned and the drug she was on, Gemcarbo, was proving to be manageable in terms of side-effects. We were able to look forward with a degree of confidence and started to make plans for the future.
The historically hot summer proved both a boon and a bane in terms of business. Our fresh fudge, which we sell on our Worcester High Street market stall and at events, proved hugely popular with day-trippers and tourists – when you’re out enjoying the sun there’s something very pleasant about enjoying a little piece of fresh, homemade fudge! But in the shops our packaged gift bars, which were so popular at Christmas, were struggling in the heat. We realised that we had to redesign our packaging to make sure that the fudge that customers bought in the shops was just as fresh & tasty as the fudge they bought from our market stall. We also thought that after nearly 4 years it was time to freshen up our brand!
So as summer turned to autumn we introduced our new 175g Sharing Bags, complete with our new logo. With the fudge heat-sealed into airtight bags, customers were finally able to enjoy the same experience as buying fudge fresh from our market stall – the Sharing Bags also looked great!
They proved an instant hit, selling well in large local outlets such as Webbs Garden Centre and Broomfields of Holt. This meant that as a business Wychbold Fudge was all set to continue growing and we began looking forward to the Christmas season.
But as a family we’ve now come to understand that when you are living with incurable cancer things can change very quickly. We no longer think of it as being on a rollercoaster – rollercoasters are both terrifying and exhilarating. As a child, I lived on the Malvern Hills. They test your stamina. They have treacherous sides that you can suddenly slide down, finding yourself at the bottom looking up and wondering how you’ll ever get back up. They also have some of the most beautiful views imaginable. That is what living with incurable cancer is like.
As effective as the Gemcarbo drug was for Helga, slowly but surely it also took a toll on her body. Her platelets (essential for helping blood to clot) and red blood cells (which carry oxygen around the body) took such a beating from the treatment that after 6 months she had to stop. We knew that it was only a matter of time before the tumours in her abdomen, which had been so effectively reduced by the drug, would begin to grow again.
So as we’d done before, we resolved to do 2 things. The first was not to waste time worrying about what hadn’t happened yet – we were still at the top of the hill and were determined to enjoy the view while we could. We made the absolute most of a family holiday and took every opportunity to spend memorable time together – whatever happened we wanted to make sure that we had banked a load of happy memories to draw on should times get tough.
The second thing we resolved to do was to consolidate what we had in terms of Wychbold Fudge and protect it should our circumstances change. We decided not to add any further shops to our list of outlets until after Christmas, and made sure that we were able to maintain the supply to our existing customers. We effectively paused the growth of the business.
Then, as we had prepared for, just a few weeks before Christmas we had the news that the tumours in Helga’s abdomen had started to grow again. The thing is it felt different this time. Whereas on previous occasions the word “rollercoaster” had come easily to mind, with the fear being intense, this time it was more a sense of “We know this…”.
We knew that anything could happen in terms of outcome, but we also knew the drill. Start the treatment. See if the side-effects are manageable. Then see if it works. 1, 2, 3 steps. One at a time. Don’t run, don’t look to the end, just walk. Step by step. One foot in front of the other.
Step 1 was great. The new drug, called Capecitabine, came in tablet form. No sitting for hours while it was delivered intravenously. Just take it with breakfast and dinner for two weeks. Then have a break for a week. Pick up the next course of tablets and rinse and repeat. Of course Helga didn’t find having to swallow a load of pills with her meals fun, but this was a big improvement on previous treatments.
Then Step 2. The side-effects. And the amazing thing was that there were hardly any. No sickness. No big hits to Helga’s immune system or blood. A little dry skin, some tingling in fingers and toes but nothing much else. So we realised that this treatment would be sustainable – she could continue to take it for as long as it worked, with no fear of it becoming too much.
So then Step 3. Was it working? We had to wait a few months to find this out, so although Steps 1 & 2 had gone well, we weren’t getting carried away. Again there’s a drill. Wait for the scan, wait for the results. Patiently, don’t let the not-knowing get taken over by the fear – you’ll know soon enough. So this is how it goes and at the beginning of April Helga had the scans, followed a week later by the results. It seems her cancer doesn’t like Capecitabine and is being shrunk back again. So for now we’re back at the top of the hill, breathing in the air. We don’t know how long Capecitabine will continue to work, but we’re not going to worry about that. It’s 3 months until the next scan so we’ll just enjoy the view while we’re here.
And what about Wychbold Fudge? Well we’re spreading the love again! Our Sharing Bags are now found in a growing number of shops across Worcestershire, Shropshire and even London. We’ve got a window where we can look to grow our little family business again, sustainably, not getting carried away but determined to make the most of the time we have – in all senses.
Until the next time and with best wishes,