Helen Dukes Guest List: Losing Your Husband to Cancer




Helen and Lottie on their first camping trip after losing Ade

Even typing the title of this blog has made my blood run cold. A lesson to be kinder to my other half. Not putting your boxers in the wash basket is absolutely infuriating, but reading this reminded me how lucky I am to have him.


Here Helen shares her experience:

  • My husband Ade was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in 2007 at just 35 years old – Lottie my first child was just a 1year old….

  • Not all skin cancers are terminal obviously, but when you are told its stage 4 – that’s not good when 1 is low and 4 is high.

  • There is never a good time to receive this sort of information – but I had recently started a new job after my 9 months maternity leave with my 1-year-old daughter. 

  • It was the anniversary of Ade’s death on April 8th – each year has got easier but it still hits me hard.

  • 7 years on I am stronger, I have my gorgeous daughter Lottie – who makes me laugh like he did, I now have a lovely new partner to share things with and another daughter Anya / Sister for Lottie and a family unit again.

  • I wanted to share some of the things I learnt back then, struggled with & found out during the time Ade was ill & where I am now so that anyone else going through the same or knows someone who is – can hopefully be supported & see that time does heal and how resilient children can be through the whole thing.

  • Cancer throws you into this bubble that puts a lock down on may things in life that we / I enjoyed – career, travelling, DJing, hobbies, swimming, basically the patient & carer not being able to do many of the things they took for granted before. 

  • Looking back you wonder how you got through it all and I know I did with the massive support of my amazing family and friends. 

  • From diagnosis to death:

  • Humour gets you through everything! Ade was a very funny person and even in his last few days had us laughing around his bed in the hospice. This made the whole few years he was ill a totally different ball game than if he’d let cancer get the better of him. Although I’m not denying there were some very dark times too but they were outweighed by the good.

  • The care, help and support from family and friends were amazing – I really couldn’t have gone through it without that – everyone really wants to help in whatever way they can – they do not mind readers so sometimes you do need to ask for help. As a career, you also need to ask who’s supporting you?

  • Some workplaces will be really supportive of you / your partner’s situation – I was very lucky, my line manager & company were so compassionate during his illness. They let me take a lot of time off for tests, operations, weekly chemo, care for and to just be with Ade while he was ill. A friend whom I met at that time, who had been in exactly the same circumstances a few months earlier, wasn’t so lucky. I think she literally had a few weeks compassionate leave with her partner before he died from his cancer. 

  • MacMillan’s are the absolute best! They not only support you & your partner through the whole time – they tell you all the things you need to know about dealing with cancer & benefits as a person dealing with cancer might need. I will never forget the love and care that we had from our MacMillan nurse – it was as if a family member was helping us through it all.

  • The National Health Service does an amazing job and there were some lovely people involved in the journey we had – The company I was woking for gave us Bupa care to its employees. However, it was more the speed in getting surgery that Bupa was any better in, not the care or amazing staff that both sides of Ade’s care had.

  • There are loads of great charities out there that offer help to you and your children – I was very proactive with this as I wanted to make sure I did what was best for Lottie. Winston’s Wish was recommended by another friend in a similar situation and was invaluable in knowing how to explain to Lottie, a then 2 – 3-year-old, what was happening to her Daddy. We now donate profits from one of the Disko Kids T-shirts to this amazing charity. 

  • I have listed a number of UK charities below.

  • Brain surgery is the easiest surgery to recover from – Apart from swelling like Ade had been in a fight with Tyson 10 times in one night for a day – it was totally back to normal & he could come home. The kidney tumour was a tad worse, to say the least! although we did manage to get married a few weeks after.

  • Make a will – it made everything a lot easier afterwards.

  • Take loads of photos and videos – & then take more! I went over and above on this but have so many memories to show Lottie & now she is 10 and she is wanting to know more about him. 

  • It was really hard but I tried to get Ade to write/talk on video as much about his life as he could. He wrote 2 birthday cards for her for me to give her in years to come ( that’s as many as I could get him to do.) One for under 10 the there for when she is older.

  • Having a memory box was also a great bit of advice that we were given from Winstons Wish. At Ade’s funeral, we asked everyone to write down some memories they had of him so that Lottie could look back & piece together what an amazing person he was. 


    Lottie and Ade

  • Post funeral:

  • There’s no denying there will be some dark days, weeks months after the funeral – the reality hits, people drift away after being there for you any time of day. 

  • I still never can find the right words to say my partner died … I ‘lost’ my husband is one I seemed to use a lot  –  Like I went somewhere and just couldn’t find him again! 

  • There are certain things that only your partner would have the answer to. Things that happened during childbirth for example – I haven’t got a fucking clue how long I was in full on contractions for but Ade would know – but probably best forgotten anyway!

  • Online food ordering became a necessity. I hate going to supermarkets to shop now, whereas I used to love pushing a trolley round the aisles – doing it with a 3-year-old who’s having a tantrum while you try and find a ripe pear was testing.

  • Dealing with technology & computer problems is so much harder on your own. I now have a bit of a phobia of learning new programs/technology – so much so that it sometimes makes me cry – I think it’s more the reminder of being alone and being in that ‘feeling helpless’ situation. 

  •  I was scammed by someone calling up one day shortly after Ade died – they told me I would loose all my photos & videos if I didn’t upload this program onto my computer – I did it then realised it was a scam. I went into an utter meltdown as those photos/videos were my record of Lottie’s Dad and were irreplaceable –  luckily I had some brilliant friends on hand who spent the day helping me fix it & making sure everything was safe. 

  • Coming back from a holiday with a full car ( camping with our 8 man tent was my first experience of this) and then having to unpack it all on your own at 9 pm at night is basically shit. Nothing else to say here apart from even shitter if it’s raining.

  • Don’t underestimate how much people want to help – My best friend would always say – you would do this for me if it was me wouldn’t you!?  Would you come up from Kent and help me unpack the car after camping in the rain, please? no I didn’t ask that but she & lots of my friends would have done it for me then I know that.

  • People can’t read your mind, know how you are feeling so you have to tell them.

  • It’s good to cry.It’s good to talk.

  • Not only do you become a widow but you’re also thrown into ‘single Mum’ life also – there is another list on Clemmie’s blog which someone covers very well! Once you’ve been a single Mum you get it. 

  • Be prepared to compare everything to do with your child’s development/persona/confidence on them losing their Daddy. 

  • I went to the Dr’s to get referred to see a counsellor for Lottie even at that young age – They were able to advise on so many things like advising that Lottie could go to the funeral if she wanted to – Children don’t want to feel excluded from things. 

  • Just ask your GP about counselling – if not go to one of the bereavement charities. Lottie is having counselling again now with ‘On the Horizon’ as I want her to be equipped to deal with all the emotions that might hit her as she approaches her teenage years.

  • Talk about / look at photos of your child’s father as much as you can with them – it keeps their memory alive.

  • Some people will avoid eye contact with you in the corridors at work – but now I realise they just didn’t know how to be with me. They hopefully won’t know how that feels.

  • The years after:

  • I always remember my counsellor saying relationships with certain friends will change. I found it very comforting spending time with Ade’s friends who were my friends too, however, some partners made this more difficult than it could have been through a time when I needed male company most. 

  • I craved just chatting to / being with men shortly after Ade died – not in a flirty way, just having a laugh. I wanted Lottie to have men around her too – as suddenly she didn’t have the parent who does the silly stuff, put her on your shoulders stuff, the taking the mickey stuff, the tickle torture stuff which Lottie suddenly didn’t have anymore.

  • Keep busy – arrange to see friends/family. But also allow yourself to grieve.

  • Evenings were lonely – Music played a big part in my grieving – finding new music, rediscovering old. I’d virtually given up DJing when Ade was ill – I’ll never forget the time a friend gave me the opportunity to DJ on his boat party a few years after Ade had died – it was totally the right time and I now know what the saying ‘getting your Mojo back’ really means.

  • Kids are so resilient – but can also be super sensitive – be open with them about everything but don’t treat them differently. 

  • Thrown into the life of not only a widow but also being a single Mum  – always remember to stock up on milk and wine – you can’t just nip out at 9 o’clock to pick up a bottle!

  • Certain situations – when you least expect them to will throw you and knock you like number 50 bus hitting you. Music often does this with me. 

  • Keep the memories alive – Lottie has a stone which she paints every Fathers day / Ade’s Birthday.

  • As time passes – It feels wrong to want to meet someone new but Ade always said I must move on and carry on with my life after he was gone.

  • When you do – you’ll probably feel judged for doing so – no one can tell you when you are ready for this – you will know & if you’re not you’ll know too!! I had a long time to grieve while Ade was ill. I had prepared myself for what was going to happen so my grieving was probably less than losing someone quite suddenly to cancer.

  • Don’t underestimate how difficult it might be for the new partner in your life. New relationships take the time to evolve between everyone in the family unit. Don’t push things to let them happen naturally.

  • Life now:

  • 7 years on life is good I’m with a new partner Chris. We’re engaged and have a 2-year-old who Lottie adores.

  • Chris & I have our own business together – I see Ade’s family regularly – I’ve got a very supportive family and great friends. I’m so proud & so would Ade be of what a lovely girl Lottie has grown into. 

  • Memories are everything – make the most of every day – take lots of photos – they enhance those memories & I will never forget all the people who made ‘the bubble’ a lot more bearable.


    Helen and her lovely daughters.

Useful charities for child bereavement:
Winstons Wish
Grief encounter
**Also check out Helens brilliant kids clothing brand: ‘Disko Kids‘**


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