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Paul’s story of seeking financial support during illness

I’m Paul, an engineer from Swansea. IET Fellow, a volunteer EngTech assessor and professional registration advisor. I’m also a member of my local network committee.

My business is a one-person limited company; I started losing work in January 2020, when Covid-19 was developing in China. I was due to go to Japan to do some safety assessments on a new project, but as soon as Covid-19 started ramping up, all the jobs I had lined up were cancelled almost overnight, both abroad and in the UK.

I thought, what the heck am I going to do? Because as a one-person limited company, I’m not entitled to furlough or the self-employment support scheme. So, an IET colleague suggested I get in touch with Foothold.

I contacted the team and explained everything that had happened to me; they were excellent. I was provided with a grant to help cover living expenses which was the most important thing at that time. They also helped with maintenance fees for a small workshop facility to store my tools.

The immediate pressure lifted. Then I got taken ill.

Receiving my diagnosis

I was diagnosed with stage 4 advanced prostate cancer in September 2020. This means it’s spread from my prostate into other areas of my body, mainly my bones. One night in late November, I woke up in the night, and my right leg wouldn’t move. I couldn’t walk, and I was in the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I eventually got to A&E and was admitted to the hospital. When I was in the ambulance, and they closed the door on my wife, I was praying that wasn’t the last time I was going to see her.

After a scan, we found out that my spinal cord was being crushed by a tumour, causing paralysis. I was given radiotherapy treatment on the tumour the following day. I spent three long months in hospital recovering. Without the financial support from Foothold, I don’t know what would have happened. Some IET colleagues also fundraised for me. For both of which we were extremely grateful. That money kept us going because I didn’t get any sick pay.

It was such a surreal time. Because of Covid-19, like most other hospital patients at the time, I didn’t see my family at all whilst I was in the hospital. I didn’t see anyone other than hospital staff and other patients for over three months. I’m now in palliative care with incurable cancer.

With hindsight, I’d had symptoms, but I attributed them to other things that were going on. I didn’t think they related to prostate cancer. It wasn’t a massive jump to believe that I was getting up at night for the toilet because I’d drunk of an evening. As men get older, we have these problems; I didn’t think it was an issue.

My family was knocked for six by my diagnosis. I’m usually the one everyone comes to for help with things, but there was less and less that I could do. I got back from the hospital in March but was bed-bound-bound at least until June. I’m now walking around the house between the three rooms I have access to, but walking is still challenging, and I use a frame. The recovery is very slow, but it’s the only way forward.

It’s been very hard at times, and my emotions are up and down — the cancer drugs don’t help with that! But, I’ve got a marvellous wife, a granddaughter, 2 daughters and their partners, and my son is only 21. So, I’m not going to give up.

Asking for help

The process of getting the support was simple. My wife did the form filling for me as I was so ill at the time. It wasn’t complicated or stressful at all. The only stress was the trepidation of doing it, and the fact that we were asking for help and didn’t know if we deserved it. We didn’t know if we should ask; we didn’t know if we were entitled to it. We were embarrassed to have to ask for help. Senior engineers are used to being in control of things, making decisions, giving help, or solving problems. So, to put my hand up and say, “I need help”, was hard. If we hadn’t had the financial support from Foothold, we’d have to stop paying the mortgage, it was that serious!

If someone were in my situation, I’d say ask Foothold for help. The support I received helped me pay my mortgage, put food on the table and ultimately meant I didn’t lose my home.

It’s fantastic that Foothold exists to support IET members. My local network organises an annual fundraising dinner with proceeds going to Foothold. We’re hoping to do another one in November as a joint Wales South East and South West event. I’ve now seen first-hand that the money we raise makes a huge difference in people’s lives.

Other than that, the plan now is to fight the cancer and learn how to walk again. I’m determined. Achieving IET Fellowship recently, was an incredibly proud moment for me.

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