Help when you’re a helper: Dennis’ story

5 minute read time.
Help when you’re a helper: Dennis’ story

Dennis’ wife Winnie was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia. Like many people here on the Online Community, Dennis was her carer for many years, alongside looking after their son and family. Dennis struggled with his mental health and found support from Macmillan. After Winnie sadly died, Dennis became a volunteer 9 years ago and continues to support other people living with cancer. Today here in Community News, Dennis is sharing his story and experiences as a carer, partner and how he went from needing help, to being the helper.

Dennis’ shared his story as video, titled “Help to be a helper”. You can watch Dennis’ video below and hear him share his experiences. Dennis’ video has subtitles. You can also read Dennis’ story within this blog.

Dennis' Story: Help to be a Helper - YouTube

My story starts when I had a serious fall and nearly broke my back, which made me available, by some miracle, to be there for my dear wife when she took ill with leukaemia, AML leukaemia. I needed a lot of help at the beginning. But I fought through that horrendous start and became the helper.

Within seven years of caring for Winnie, I also cared for my son and the whole family. I helped Winnie through her illness, through her many years. Seven and a half years she fought it, six and a bit in Ayr Hospital, and a year and a bit in the Beatson in Glasgow, going through a bone marrow transplant. And at the end, she didn’t make it. I lost her 10 years ago this October.

My younger son had a serious RTA in the middle of all this and spent 28 days in Glasgow Royal Infirmary. They did plastic surgery on his foot. His big toe was hanging off and I think there were 16 bones in his foot broken. My dad’s dementia was progressively getting worse and he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, come to terms with Winnie’s illness. But both my sons are excellent help to me and I have come through it all.

It was difficult and I needed help. Depression crept in and I never noticed it. It’s like, you don’t know the brakes in your car are knackered until you press the pedal a bit harder. That’s what depression’s like. You don’t realise how much you’ve lost that ability to cope.

One thing you find out through all this time is when push comes to shove, your real friends stay by, and your pretend friends disappear like the turn of the tide, so very much.

I was helped so much at the Beatson by Macmillan. I joined Macmillan nine years ago to help people out through their cancer journey. Because Macmillan was not in my area at the time, my determination was to make Macmillan known in this area. I am now the lead volunteer in Ayrshire. I am a phone buddy and I feel that I’m able to help some people now, just to give something back for the people who have helped me.

As part of my attempts to find myself after that difficult period, I did a mindfulness course. And since doing that course, I have come off all antidepressants. At the end of the course, the psychologist asked us to lift a seashell from a selection that he had brought in that depicted my life’s journey. And the shell I spotted was a decrepit old limpet shell. It felt right.

Every morning since I’ve looked at that shell and said to myself, “Well, you’re still here pal, and so am I. And I’ve been through hell and back and I’m still here.”

And I like to think I am now the helper, not the person who’s being helped.


Here on the Online Community, we see every day how much it can help to have support and kindness from others who can understand how you feel. We have different forums for different types of leukaemia, to help you find other people with a similar diagnosis. This includes our Acute myeloid leukaemia forum. We also have a forum for carers, including a forum for supporting someone with incurable cancer. If you are interested in helping other people living with cancer, lots of members in the Online Community might appreciate your support.

If you have also been bereaved, there is also lots of support here on the Online Community. We have a Bereaved spouses and partners forum and a Bereaved family and friends forum. These are safe places where you can find other people who may have been through a similar experience.

We have lots of members here on the Online Community who volunteer their time to help others. Some of these members are our Community Champions. You can find out more about the amazing support our Online Community volunteers offer by reading our blog, A big thank you to our Community Champions.

If you are interested in being a volunteer for Macmillan like Dennis, you can browse volunteering opportunities. If you’d like to be a Community Champion, you can contact the Community team over email to to find out more.

But it’s important to remember you don’t have to be a volunteer to help others. People here on the Community help each other every day by writing a kind message, sending a ‘love’ or ‘hug’ using our reaction buttons, or sharing their experiences. If you feel that you have the space to support someone else today, why not take a look at our forums and reply to a post?

We’d like to thank Dennis for all his time and effort volunteering for Macmillan, alongside sharing his story with the Online Community. If you’re a carer or if you have been bereaved, you’re not alone in what you’re going through. Talking about your experiences and sharing support can also make a big difference to other people going through a similar experience.

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    • Hi .  my partner has just been diagnosed with breast cancer ..  I want to support ( I live 1000 miles away) and just feel at a loss as to what to do .. I can try to be irritatingly positive.. but I am scared too .. we don't have a treatment plan yet ..and she is already slightly pushing me away .. gonfind someone else .. that is tge last thing I could do .. is there help for partners .. how do I access it .. I want to speak to breast cancer survivors .. just spiralling a bit at the moment 
  • Hello  ,

    Thank you for posting your comment, I hope that you found the blog helpful to read. I'm sorry to hear about your partner's diagnosis. I can appreciate this may be very difficult to cope with, especially as you live some distance away from your partner.

    Here on the Online Community we have lots of community forums where you can speak to other people living with cancer. Some forums you may find helpful to join are:
    Breast cancer forum
    Family and friends forum 

    You can join a forum by clicking “Join” under “Options.” You can then post in a forum when you’re ready by clicking “+new” or “+” next to the forum title. You can also scroll through other people’s posts and click “reply” to get involved.

    We would also recommend contacting our Support Line. Our support team are available 7 days a week, 8am-8pm on freephone 0808 808 00 00email or live webchat. They are here to listen and help you find the right support. Our Support Line teams can help with emotional support and practical help. They can help partners alongside a person who has a diagnosis themselves. They’re here to talk, and they can also help with any questions you have. 

    We also have support on Macmillan's website around when your partner has cancer. This includes guidance around your feelings, relationship changes and supporting each other.

    I hope you will feel able to find the support you may need. If you need any further help around the Online Community, please feel welcome to contact the Community team over email to

    Best wishes,
    Macmillan Community team