'Some good has to come out of this' – Terminally-ill farmer's defiant battle against depression
PUBLISHED: 10:02 22 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:46 22 March 2019
A Norfolk farmer battling an incurable cancer has bared his soul about the debilitating depression which followed in a bid to get more people talking about mental health.
Patrick Joice, who runs a poultry business at Uphouse Farm in South Raynham, near Fakenham, was given the shock news last March that he only had five months to live after being diagnosed with salivary duct carcinoma, a very rare cancer.
“The world came crashing down around our ears in an instant,” he said.
But even after beating those odds, he said the terminal nature of the disease left him consumed with worries about leaving his wife and children behind, and a loss of his sense of purpose after stepping back from his work.
He said he “didn’t believe in depression” and stubbornly refused to accept help until he was won over by the “incredible” support of his wife Zanna, their families and friends, GPs, and confidential counselling from Norfolk-based charity YANA (You Are Not Alone).
The 45-year-old chose to reveal his story via The Naked Farmer, an Australian Facebook page which encourages farmers to post nude pictures of themselves and discuss their problems, on the basis that it takes more guts to get naked than talk about how you are feeling.
He said that openness was crucial in finding the right mindset to face up to the impact of his physical illness. And he is determined to deliver a positive message from his situation – that anyone suffering in silence should be confident to speak openly about their mental health, and get the help they need.
“The trouble is, nothing has ever stopped me in the past,” he said. “We are all incredibly positive around here by nature and, if you have a problem, you deal with it, and move on.
“Even with this cancer you think: ‘There’s no way this bugger is going to have me, let’s crack on and beat it’. But then I came across something that actually got the better of me.
“I didn’t believe in depression, I didn’t believe in stress. I just thought some folks needed a kick up the arse.
“I still don’t get it, how my brain is broken, which is essentially what it is. But I do accept there is another side to me.
“When my mind isn’t straight, it is so debilitating, and life just has no worth to it. It is like a phantom that encloses around you.
“I know I have got to appreciate those lows will always be there because of the terminal nature of the disease, but we are better in control of it now, and understand it better.
“When my head is saying things that clearly aren’t right, I don’t accept it – I fight it. Then Zanna and I can sit down and start tackling the issue.
“Some good has got to come out this situation. If we can help just one other person by talking about this, then we will have achieved something. Let’s just get people talking, get people asking the right questions.”
Mr Joice said mental health pressures could be amplified in the agricultural industry, where farmers worked long hours in isolated environments, with their incomes reliant on factors beyond their control, such as weather and world markets.
He said he finally accepted he needed help for depression during a two-month trip to visit his wife’s family in Australia, which had been an important goal for him ever since he received his terminal diagnosis.
“He didn’t think the depression was too bad, but I knew it was,” said Mrs Joice. “He went pretty low out there, and it took me a while to convince him to see my parents’ GP.
“We went through ten days of lots of tears and lots of issues and lots of ups and downs and I said: ‘We cannot do this anymore, we have got to do something’.
“I wouldn’t wish the emotional rollercoaster on my worst enemy. In the beginning, when the positivity abounds, the ups and downs of the rollercoaster were enough, but if you add the mental health side where the positivity is not there all the time, it takes those ups and downs to a completely new level.
“Patrick is strong and fit and more than capable in every other way – it is just the mental side.”
Mr Joice said he took great comfort from the close support of his wife and their two children, Jack, nine, and Olivia, six.
“Zanna and I have always been very close and if there is a personal benefit out of any of this, it is how much closer we have become since the diagnosis,” he said.
“It does make you focus on what is important. Life can change in an instant, and it has reminded us how important it is to spend time with those around you and enjoy life.”
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT: WHO TO CONTACT
• Samaritans: Phone 116 123, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, for anyone who is struggling to cope. You can call Samaritans for free from any phone, email them or visit the website to find details of your nearest branch.
• The YANA (You Are Not Alone) Project: 0300 323 0400, email@example.com.
Mental health awareness, confidential support via helpline, counsellors and GPs and funding for counselling for those in farming and rural industries of Norfolk and Suffolk.
• RABI: The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution: 0808 281 9490, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Provides confidential welfare advice, practical care and financial support with compassion, discretion and friendship to those in need within the farming community.
• Farming Community Network: 03000 111 999, email@example.com.
Supporting farmers and families within the farming community through difficult times. Volunteers will “walk with you” and help you find a positive way through your problems – for as long as it is needed.