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Charity centre was ‘a real refuge’ for family battling cancer

PUBLISHED: 09:00 22 December 2017 | UPDATED: 10:31 22 December 2017

Polly Stodel, who died of cancer in 2008. Photo: The Big C

Polly Stodel, who died of cancer in 2008. Photo: The Big C

The Big C

A lump found during breastfeeding prompted a “dark and dismal” time for a North Lopham family after the discovery was diagnosed as terminal breast cancer.

Gary Stodel, 38, has spoken out about his wife Polly’s battle with the disease to highlight the work done by Norfork’s cancer charity The Big C.

Polly, 38, died in 2008 leaving Gary to raise their then two-year-old daughter Izzy.

In 2004 the couple had their first child Toby, who was born premature and tragically died two weeks later.

A few months later they tried again, and conceived Izzy - but it was whilst breastfeeding Izzy that Polly discovered a limp, initially dismissed by her GP as a blocked milk duct.

Polly Stodel, who died of cancer in 2008. Photo: The Big CPolly Stodel, who died of cancer in 2008. Photo: The Big C

By the time the cancer was detected, it was too late.

Shortly after her diagnosis, Polly discovered it had spread to her liver. She was given 20 to 24 months to live.

During Polly’s treatment, the couple discovered Big C at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Gary, 58, said: “We both found it a very refreshing place. It was a space where we could get away from the wards. Somewhere with nice colours, comfortable seats, a good cup of coffee and biscuits – Polly felt like a person not a patient when she visited the Big C Centre.”

Gary Stodel, whose wife Polly died of cancer in 2008. Photo: The Big CGary Stodel, whose wife Polly died of cancer in 2008. Photo: The Big C

Polly also used the Look Good, Feel Better service and tried wearing wigs for a spell after her chemotherapy. The couple both had massages at the centre which was a respite in between treatments for Polly.

“We got to know the people at the centre and we really liked them there,” Gary said. “It was a human place to be, a real refuge and a haven for us – it gave us a slice of normality. Hospitals are what they are for a reason but they often lack the human touch. On so many occasions it was simply good for us to just have a drink and a biscuit, a welcoming space, somewhere we could feel normal and protected.”

Gary has been a massive advocate and fundraiser for Big C since Polly died. Both he and Izzy, now 7, have organised various events, which all began with a special FA Cup photocall in The King’s Head pub, after winning a competition to have the FA Cup for the day.

He has also taken part in a fire walk and in 2011 presented a special theatre production at his local village hall called Shadowlands, a true story about a love affair between writer C S Lewis and American poet Joy Gresham. Their deep friendship and love was pulled apart by her death through bone cancer – a story similar to Gary and Polly’s.

Polly Stodel, who died of cancer in 2008. Photo: The Big CPolly Stodel, who died of cancer in 2008. Photo: The Big C

Izzy also recently held a sponsored silence to raise money for the Big C in memory of her mother, raising £250.

“Since Polly died, I have found it very difficult to return to hospital,” Gary said. “I can’t bear going there if I’m honest but after a routine appointment recently, I drove past the Big C centre and actually had a little smile. Inside was a really lovely and warm space for me and Polly. It really was a hopeful place to be.”

• For more information, click here or call 0800 092 7640.

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