When she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, Tiggy Walker started crying. When she told her husband, he cried too. Then, at some point, she says: ‘We just saw the funny side. Johnnie said to me: “Well, we’re an equal-opportunities marriage…”‘
Ten years earlier, in 2003, her husband – Radio 2 DJ Johnnie Walker – had his own battle with cancer with Tiggy by his side. His non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis came after three months of marriage. A producer of TV commercials, she stopped work to look after him full-time. With her illness, the patient-carer roles reversed.
‘So we’ve seen each other at our lowest points,’ she says, laughing. ‘From the vomiting of chemo through the losing of hair, vile mood swings… all dignity goes out the window.’
It was that shared experience that led Carers UK to ask the couple to be joint patrons of the charity, a role they assumed in 2015 – the year Tiggy got the all clear from her cancer. From Johnnie’s diagnosis to his return to radio during remission in March 2004 took a year. It took Tiggy a lot longer to get her life back on track.
‘Johnnie was incredibly sick, there was a very good chance of him going,’ she says. ‘So you forget your own needs. When he went back to work, I sort of collapsed. I’d never been more miserable. I felt I’d lost everything I’d worked for and was known as. Four or five years later, we actually ended up in marriage guidance as a result.’
‘I thought: I wish there had been some help for the carer in this situation. It can have a huge emotional, physical and financial effect. Carers UK really helps people’s lives.’
To help raise awareness of and funds for the charity Tiggy has published Unplanned Journey, an unflinchingly intimate diary of her breast cancer, in collaboration with photographer Bella West, whose candid, poignant images capture every stage of the process.
‘A cancer diagnosis makes you realise that if you have things you want to do, you’ve got to get on with them. Being both a carer and a patient really develops you as a human being.’
Unplanned Journey by Tiggy Walker and Bella West is available from http://www.carersuk.org. Royalties go to the charity.
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[Picture credit: Tiggy and Johnnie Walker, photographed by Bella West]