Falkirk throat cancer survivor tells of his fight to beat depression

Jamie Rae
Jamie Rae

Cancer treatment can have a devastating effect on mental health even when it’s totally effective - says a Falkirk man who suffered depression despite beating throat cancer.

He said: “I felt worse after I was given the all clear. It was bizarre, almost like a trigger.

“My expectations were that I would feel a lot better and suddenly I felt a lot worse.”

In the run-up to Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 Jamie Rae, who runs the Throat Cancer Foundation wants to highlight what he sees as the under-publicised emotional dangers which can afflict even people who no longer have any physical threat to worry about.

Jamie was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer caused by HPV on July 1 2010, the businessman’s treatment ended in October 30 the same year.

He was given the all clear on December 10, 2010, but he felt no surge of joy at the colossal reprieve the news represented.

Jamie said: “Throughout my whole cancer journey, I’d always managed to stay quite resolute, quite strong and focused on a positive outcome.

“The treatment was incredibly challenging. I’d lost three stones in weight, couldn’t eat anything, and I really struggled to swallow the nutritional drinks I had to take every day to keep going - but despite all that, I kept quite upbeat and mentally occupied”.

When he received the good news he started to wonder - even as he texted upbeat messages to friends - why he didn’t feel elated.

“After a few days, I started to feel really down”, he said.

His GP told him it is not unusual for people who have been through trauma to feel down, but it took six months and a course of a mild anti-depressant before his mood started to lift.

He says he experience inspired him to lobby the Scottish and UK governments to extend the HPV vaccination programme to boys, and in 2012 he set up the Throat Cancer Foundation.

In July 2018 the UKGovernment confirmed that it would extend HPV vaccination to schoolboys aged 12 and 13 next year, but Jamie wants it extended to all boys aged up to 18.

He says that currently some families will have one son who will be guarded from the cancer-causing HPV virus, while their older boy may not be offered the same protection.

For the immediate future, though, he wants to raise awareness of the impact of trauma following throat cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“One of our consultants described the treatment as barbaric”, said Jamie.

“ The consultant who treated me said that when he treats patients he knows what lies ahead for them and does feel sad that there’s no other solution.

“He knows he’s going to take someone that looks perfectly healthy, has a normal life where they can eat, drink and do everything they want to do - he knows he’s going to make them very sick to make them well”.

He added: “Because throat cancer treatment deprives you of some of the real pleasures of life, like the ability to enjoy food, you can’t go out and socialise because you can’t eat or share a meal with your family.

The Throat Cancer Foundation is dedicated to reducing the impact of throat cancers on individuals and wider society.

It offers support, and aims to ensure that anyone affected, including the person who has cancer, their friends, and their loved ones, has access to the most up to date information available regarding their illness, the available treatments, and what to expect in recovery.

There’s further information at www.throatcancerfoundation.org