When Jenni Carrick was diagnosed with cancer at 28, she turned to boyfriend
Luke Bearman, 21, for support. But as her treatment took its toll, their
relationship splintered. This is their story
JENNI SAYS: “When Luke lay next to me in bed, kissing my neck and telling
me I was beautiful, I didn’t believe him. How could I? I was fat, bald and
riddled with cancer.
I loved him so much, but since my diagnosis, I didn’t understand why he was
still with me, let alone fancied me.
The chemo I needed to save my life had robbed me of my femininity. It left me
with no hair anywhere on my body – no eyebrows or eyelashes. I had to take
steroids too – and consequently I put on 3st and ballooned to a size 18.
Coping with cancer was tough, sometimes it was overwhelming. Luke, a builder,
was seven years younger than me – I joked he was my toy boy. When I was
well, the age difference hadn’t mattered, but now it did. To me, anyway.
I told Luke to leave time and time again. I didn’t want him to stay with me
out of pity. After all, I wasn’t the woman he’d met at a local pub in the
summer of 2006. Back then, I’d been a sexy size 12, energetic, funny now I
was bloated, depressed and bad-tempered.
I knew he was The One. We’d dreamed of getting married and having kids, but
the treatment to cure my cancer would probably leave me infertile. He
deserved a better woman than me.
Like most 20-somethings, I’d thought I was invincible. When I started getting
chest pains, tiredness and constantly itchy legs, I put it down to an
allergy. It was a year before I went to my doctor. Within days, Luke and I
were seeing a consultant at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford. It turned out
I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma – cancer of the lymph nodes. The good news? I had
an 80 per cent chance of survival.
Back home in our little flat, we held each other and cried for hours. Luke
said I’d make it, that I was strong. I wasn’t so sure. I was scared, but
didn’t want to show it.
I was told I’d have to undergo intensive chemotherapy, then radiotherapy, but
hopefully they’d save my life.
The irony was I’d worked at a funeral home for years, helping other people say
goodbye to their loved ones. I felt I was facing my own death – and I wasn’t
My consultant talked me through my treatment and explained I’d probably be
unable to have children. Back home, I told Luke we should split up. He
wanted kids and I couldn’t have them now. ‘Find someone else,’ I said sadly.
He shook his head and said he loved me, no matter what.
Luke came with me when I started my first course of chemo in February last
year. I put on a brave face, but in reality, I was terrified.
As the medication was pumped into me, I felt so overwhelmed I couldn’t
breathe. I told myself it would be OK, that I would make it through this.
The treatment lasted an hour and left me exhausted. When Luke asked if I was
all right, I lied and said I was. Really, I was crumbling.
The emotional pressure was immense and the slightest thing made me scream at
Luke. I lost count of how many times I shouted at him for no reason, or
ordered him to leave. But he never did and he never retaliated. He just
accepted the new monster that was me.
During my treatment, I needed time off work but, ironically, while I was
working, I felt strangely calm. I think it was because nothing had changed
there, so I felt normal, as if this cancer thing was happening to someone
else. On the outside, I still looked a little bit like the old me.
Then one day as I brushed my shoulder-length dyed blonde hair, clumps fell
away with each stroke. I’d been expecting it, but the reality was
devastating. I called Luke in tears and he soothed me until I felt calm
again. Later that night, I cut my hair as short as possible, then Luke
shaved it all off. It was what I wanted. I couldn’t control the cancer, but
I could sort my hair out.
Once he’d finished, he stared at me. I was worried he was repulsed by what he
saw, but instead he smiled. ‘You’re beautiful,’ he said, kissing me softly.
Then he took the clippers to his dark brown mop until he had a skinhead too.
He rubbed the top of his head and grinned at me. ‘We match now,’ he said. It
was such a lovely, sweet gesture.
I hated being bald, and covered up my head with either a long brown wig or a
Somehow, Luke still found me attractive, but I felt ugly. We were still
intimate, but it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t the same. Deep down I didn’t
believe Luke really wanted to make love to me. And our relationship began to
In June 2008, after a blazing row over some dirty washing, I screamed at Luke
to get out – again. This time, he did. I was so tired from the disease, I
didn’t have the energy to care.
The next morning, he rang asking if he could come home. I refused, but as I
spoke, I knew I didn’t mean it.
Later that day, when I was out, he emptied the flat of all his stuff. I was
devastated, but convinced myself it was better this way.
Of course I missed him. Sometimes I’d faintly smell his aftershave in a room,
or stretch out and hope to feel him next to me on the sofa, but I refused to
cry. I was afraid I might not stop. Plus I had my cancer to beat first.
And I did. Last November I was told I was in remission. I texted Luke. When he
texted back, I hoped he’d ask to come home. He didn’t. I’d lost him.
I threw myself into life and work. Two months later, I was at a friend’s party
when I saw a familiar smile. Luke was grinning at me from across the room.
Although I was still a size 16, my hair had grown back – short and fuzzy – but
with pencilled-in eyebrows and stick-on lashes, I felt human again.
As we chatted, Luke’s hand brushed mine and my heart raced. I’d missed him so
We ended up back at my place, talking until the small hours. We realised we
still loved each other. At first we took things slowly, just dating. But we
knew this time it was for good, and soon he moved back in.
Just a month later, my period was late. A test confirmed I was pregnant. We
hadn’t used contraception – I’d believed my treatment had left me infertile.
But now I was terrified because I’d read that sometimes pregnancy can reignite
cancer. I’d only just beaten the disease – I didn’t have the energy to go
through all that again. And what about my baby? Worried, we went to see my
oncologist, but he allayed my fears and said I would be closely monitored.
Relieved, I went for a scan, and saw a blurry shape appear on the screen. ‘Our
baby,’ I whispered as Luke squeezed my hand.
My pregnancy has been really healthy and I’ve never been happier.
Our baby is due in October. We’ve been through so much in such a short time.
The moment I hold my baby in my arms will be magical. I’m so glad Luke
waited for me.”
‘I NEVER STOPPED LOVING HER’
Luke says: “When Jenni was really ill, I was so scared she’d die. I’d
lie awake and watch her sleeping. Sometimes I’d have to touch her to be sure
she was still breathing. I was terrified that if I went to sleep, she might
be dead by morning. So I lay and watched over her, hoping that if anything
happened, I could save her.
The cancer treatment had taken her sparkle. Her face was a sickly grey, she
had no hair, eyelashes or eyebrows – but she was still my beautiful Jenni.
I’d fallen in love with her the moment I saw her – she had such beautiful eyes
and a sexy smile. I really thought we’d grow old together. We’d planned a
wedding and a couple of babies, not cancer. As the consultant told her the
diagnosis, I was terrified of losing her.
A few days later I met my mates in the pub. When I told them, they were all
shocked, but they didn’t know what to say. We sat in silence, drinking. I
was just 21 – I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to deal with something this
When Jenni started the chemo, it was awful. She had no energy. Some days she
would be in bed all day, then I would have to help bathe her. I didn’t mind,
but she hated it. I wanted her to feel loved, so I would kiss and cuddle
her, and take her out for dinner whenever she was up for it. I hoped it made
But when she started on the steroids, her temper got out of control. I wasn’t
sure how she’d react from one minute to the next. It was like being around a
Jekyll and Hyde character. I told her she was beautiful, but she didn’t
Having no one to turn to really got on top of me. I wanted to scream and shout
about how unfair it was, but as a man it just didn’t seem right. Instead I
would wait until my dad, who lived nearby, had gone to work, then I’d have a
good cry on his sofa.
The night I left Jenni, I really thought she wanted rid of me. After all,
she’d screamed at me to leave so many times. I figured she wanted to fight
the rest of her disease on her own and that she didn’t love me any more.
We sent a few texts, but as time went on, I didn’t have the guts to ask her to
take me back, even though I dreamed of her at night – sometimes she was fit
and well, other times she was grey and tired. When she told me she was in
remission, I was so happy for her. But after I texted her back I started
crying. She’d been so strong, so together. I didn’t think she needed me.
It was another two months before I saw her. She looked so beautiful. I hadn’t
dared hope she still cared for me, but I knew then I’d never let her go
again. When we found out she was pregnant, I fell in love with her even
There are days when I get scared and I worry the cancer might return, but for
now I just want to see her holding our baby in her arms, then life will be
If your relationship has been affected by cancer, visit Macmillan.org.uk or
call 0808 800 1234.
JONES HAIR & MAKE-UP: SHERRIE WARWICK JENNI WEARS (TOP PICTURE): TOP AND
JEANS, BOTH MAMAS AND PAPAS, (ABOVE PICTURE): DRESS, BLOOMING MARVELLOUS;