The wife of Countryfile star Adam Henson has described how "important" it was for the pair to be married after her pancreatic cancer diagnosis left her feeling like she had been "hit by a sledgehammer".
Charlie first noticed symptoms of a "bad tummy" over the Christmas period in 2020, but changes to her diet failed to resolve the problem. She eventually sought advice from her GP in February 2021 and had to wait another three weeks for an appointment, by which time she had started sharing concerns with pals.
In his new book, Adam, 57, revealed tests on his spouse at the time showed she wasn't absorbing food properly, which led to her being prescribed Creon. Told pancreatic cancer was "very unlikely", she arranged a scan before going about her life for the next five weeks awaiting it's result.
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Charlie, Adam, and their grown-up children, Ella and Alfie were then "lulled into a false sense of security" believing "no news is good news". However, with Adam working away in Scotland, Charlie received the devastating call. "There was no preamble: it was pancreatic cancer," she said.
She continued: "I was told the scan showed a 4.5cm growth on my pancreas, located in a difficult position and it was very serious. The GP asked if I had anyone with me at home and apologised that she had to discuss this over the phone. I felt I had been hit with a sledgehammer.
"I knew that this type of cancer had a very low survival rate just five per cent. We also knew of a couple of people who had had it, and their disease had progressed very quickly from diagnosis. I decided not to ring Adam; he was working and what could he do? My mum lives five minutes away, and she and Pete, her partner of many years, came straight over. I honestly don't know what I would have done without them, but I was in absolute hell. I couldn't process it, it was too big to take in."
The couple were later told at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital it was "definitely" cancer, but potentially a neuroendocrine tumour – a rare, slow-growing form of the disease. They learned that only two per cent of pancreatic cancer is neuroendocrine and, even if it was that, operating would prove difficult due to its size and positioning. The alternative was palliative care.
Stunned, and unable to walk due to the shock, Charlie had to be carried down the corridor by Adam before they retreated to their Cotswolds home. It was there Charlie asked the "very important" question about marriage. She explained: "We had been together for many years and had never felt we needed to marry: for me, having children with Adam was our commitment to each other. A wedding had never been important. Now, suddenly, it was the most important thing in the world."
Charlie continued: "It's ridiculous but I really, really wanted everyone to know how much I love Adam; most importantly, I wanted him to know. It was suddenly such a big thing." With Adam still struggling to process the news, Charlie's mum and sister's arranged the ceremony for the first available date that September.
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Soon Charlie learned her cancer was stage one, and following advice from her doctor delayed surgery by a week allowing them to enjoy their "wonderful" big day. Adam recalled it fondly: "Charlie wore an ivory dress and looked beautiful. When I saw her walking in on the arm of her mum, I had to struggle to hold it together. Everyone knew that she was going into hospital the next day and it was very emotional. But we also tried very hard not to think of what was hanging over us."
Charlie's operation involved removing parts of the pancreas, gall bladder and duodenum and thankfully proved successful. Her recovery is ongoing recovery is ongoing, and requires her to take Creon with every meal, as well as blood thinners and supplements. The family is now forced to live in anticipation of her "one six-monthly scan to the next" which is "terrifying" every time the next date looms.
Adam added: "The whole experience was brutal. Watching her suffer was heartbreaking. But since then, we have made a point of doing lots of things together. Travel is something we both love and we've tried to fit in as much as possible, to Japan and elsewhere. And our Christmas in 2021 was the best of my life."
Christmas on the Farm: Wintry Tales from a Life Spent Working with Animals by Adam Henson is available from Thursday (October 26).
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