On Saturday 16th June 2018, at the Droitwich Food & Drink Festival, we will mark the first anniversary of the launch of our unique Droitwich Salt Fudge. It’s also the first anniversary of our project to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. As those familiar with our story will know, the fact it was launched at all was really special, so one year on we thought it would be good if I gave an update of how the last year has gone.
I’ll always remember the Droitwich Food & Drink Festival of 2017. Just to be there with a Wychbold Fudge stall, let alone with a batch of our newly created Droitwich Salt Fudge, was more than we had believed possible just a few weeks earlier. It simply wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the fantastic support of our local community. Helga had been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, which had spread to her brain and abdomen, and the likelihood of being able to continue our family business looked remote – let alone creating a unique new product. But thanks to that wonderful support, there we were with a stall and Droitwich Salt Fudge to sell.
The day itself was really quite amazing. I had a volunteer, Charlie, from the local Young Farmers’ with me to help, but nothing could have prepared us for the number of people wanting to support us and sample the new Droitwich Salt Fudge. I had cooked as much fudge as I physically could in the days leading up to the festival, but even so by one o’clock all of the Droitwich Salt Fudge had been sold! Fortunately, I had other flavours but by just after 3pm every bar of fudge that I’d managed to make had gone. It was truly unbelievable, but what struck me most about the day was just how kind everyone was. Complete strangers who had heard our story were offering their support and best wishes – it was overwhelming. By the end of the festival, I was physically and emotionally drained, relieved and grateful in equal measure!
The days and weeks that followed were really about adjusting to a new reality. Helga began her chemotherapy, with a relatively new drug called Kadcyla, while on the business side sales of Droitwich Salt Fudge continued to grow. We kept adjusting our routine, looking for the balance between following Helga’s treatment, growing the business and trying to keep things as positive and healthy as possible for our children, who had been through such a tough time.
Again, with the help and support of family, friends and the community we slowly found a rhythm where our lives were able to function well again. Helga’s chemotherapy was going well and we were blessed that she was suffering few negative side effects. We had increased the number of shops we were supplying with Droitwich Salt Fudge, were doing regular markets and events and we were also able to make regular donations to Macmillan Cancer Support, which was our way of giving something back. Perhaps the best thing for us though was that our children were happy and doing well.
By September, Helga’s brain tumours had shrunk enough from the chemotherapy for her to undergo a revolutionary form of radiotherapy called Cyberknife. It involved an intense but targeted beam of radiotherapy on her brain. She attended a number of appointments at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, for treatment and at the end of it underwent a scan to see the effects of all the treatment.
Waiting for scan results is one of the toughest parts of cancer treatment as there is literally nothing else that can be done at that stage except, well, wait. I imagine it’s like being in a car that has spun out of control, and you just have to wait to see where you land. Well for us the news was wonderful. The tumours on the brain appeared to have been eradicated, while the tumours in Helga’s abdomen had shrunk so much that her lymph glands (where the cancers live) were back to their normal size. She would continue to have the Kadcyla treatment, but as long as that continued to work, we could begin to look forward to a really positive future.
In December we had our first ever appearance at the Worcester Victorian Fayre, and Helga was able to join me on the stall for the final day. A successful period for the business in the festive period, combined with Helga’s ever improving health, meant that we were able to enjoy a really lovely Christmas.
We took a well earned break from the business at the beginning of January, starting up again on the 3rd Saturday of the new year. January & February are always slow for selling fudge – everyone is quite understandably recovering from the indulgences of Christmas and New Year, so we were able to enjoy a few days away as a family in the February half-term.
When we returned, Helga had an appointment come through for a scan in March – a routine check up to see how her cancer was doing with the on-going Kadcyla treatment. She had noticed a little discomfort in her abdomen, but nothing major, so the wait between the scan and the result was not as difficult as previously as we were optimistic about getting good news.
So it’s fair to say it was a major blow when the result came back that after just 9 months, the Kadcyla drug was no longer working and the tumours in Helga’s abdomen had grown by 25%.
Those first few days after a diagnosis of cancer, or that cancer has returned, are the hardest. The mind races ahead, laying out all the potential outcomes and inevitably focussing on the negatives. It can be difficult to see beyond the worst of all the possibilities.
But the one thing we have learned since Helga was first diagnosed with breast cancer more than two years ago is that you have a choice about how you approach the news. We resolved some time ago that as hard as it can be at times, we would not spend whatever time we have left together as a family worrying about something that hadn’t happened. We resolved that we would trust in the treatment we were receiving, and ensure that we maintained a happy, positive home for us and our children. That way, whatever happens, we will have great memories to keep us going if things get tough.
So, placing our trust in the wonderful oncology team at Royal Worcester Hospital, and again relying on the incredible community around us, we got on with Helga’s new treatment. This time a drug called Gemcarbo. This one was a little tougher on Helga in terms of side effects, but gradually we found a new routine. Just as before, making adjustments as we went, we settled into our new reality. Treatment and business (we had our biggest ever corporate order smack bang in the middle of this), all juggled around the needs of our children – spinning plates, because that’s what you do.
Which brings us forward to June. After a couple of months of treatment, with adjustments in the dosage to try and reduce some of the side effects, Helga had a scan to see if the Gemcarbo was working. The appointment for the results was scheduled for Friday 8th June – which also happened to be the first day of the Worcester Food Festival. Again, life just keeps rolling, so we decided I would go ahead with the festival and Helga would go to the appointment on her own, although she would have her brilliant cancer nurse there for support.
So, half way through a busy afternoon, my phone rang and Helga gave the news – the treatment is working and her tumours have shrunk right down again. That was last week. This week we’ve passed £1025 in donations to Macmillan Cancer Support. That’s enough for a Macmillan Nurse to support someone with cancer for a whole week. This Saturday we’ll celebrate a year since Droitwich Salt Fudge was launched and Helga will be there with me.
Life is good and a diagnosis of cancer doesn’t mean the end.
(1 Year On – Left to right: Cindy (one of our volunteers), Justin, Helga, Claire (another of our volunteers)