When her husband Greg was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer, Stacey Heale decided to start writing their story on her blog. Beneath the Weather is a discussion about the hard things that happens to humans, with frank and honest posts about the emotional toll cancer can have on both the patient and their family. With two young kids herself, Stacey writes openly about caring for her husband whilst also being a mum; they have raised over £200,000 on their crowdfunding campaign as well as working with Bowel Cancer UK and informing people about the ins and outs of cancer, scary parts and all.
We spoke to Stacey about her blog, what it means to share online and why honesty is so important.
Tell us a bit about your blog - what made you want to start writing?
Beneath the Weather was a natural progression of long posts I started writing on Facebook when Greg was having chemo. We would be at the hospital for a whole day; Greg knocked out with drugs and me sat around with no-one to talk to but my mind going crazy, buzzing with thoughts and feelings. I had never shared personal thoughts on social media before but it came tumbling out like diary entries. I was so scared on those days and I wanted to reach out to people to feel less alone. Beneath the Weather is looking for the same connection but on a bigger scale.
What keeps you blogging? Where do you find your inspiration?
Our situation is ongoing, so there's always stuff to write about. To write about it gives me some distance and perspective that I don't have when I'm in the trenches of being a carer and mum to two small kids.
How do you manage your blogging around your kids and family life?
I have two girls; Dali (3) and Bay (1). They feature a lot in my writing and photography because they are a source of constant amusement and are my most important teachers - I've learnt the most about myself from being their mum. I carry about four notebooks around with me so I always jot down thoughts, observations and connections I think of when I'm out because I hardly ever get a chance to sit down and write properly. It's all just a big cut and paste job of lots of random ideas pieced together.
Why do you think it's important to be honest about what you're all going through on the blog?
I couldn't even begin to count the amount of amazing messages I've had sent encouraging my writing. I've had people reach out from all types of situations - post-natal depression, bullying, losing a child, anxiety, depression - to say that my honest writing about crying in public or having a panic attack because I can't think of what to cook for dinner made them feel less alone. I realise it's not for everyone, but there is a freedom in being really honestt.
Also, there is a 1 in 2 chance of getting Cancer in your lifetime - a 50% chance! - so if it's not you, it will definitely be someone you know. We know so little about living with cancer because people don't like to talk/hear about what it's like, it's too scary. I feel like it's important for people to know the honest feelings of the situation and maybe it will help them in the future when cancer appears in their life.
What do you find most challenging about blogging?
I found just starting the most challenging, mostly surrounding the idea that I'm not a writer. This is obviously insane because there are 14 year olds with websites and writing on the internet doesn't need any qualification. There was also the thought that my time is so sparse, is this really a good use of it? Luckily, I shut all these negative thoughts down quickly when I realised that if I didn't have an outlet for myself, I would go mad and be of no use to anyone.
How has your life changed since starting the blog?
I've had such an amazing response from people, it's made me realise that we're all connected by hard stuff that happens to us. Personally experiencing the kindness of strangers has transformed my life - to witness that people are intrinsically good. Only yesterday, after reading about how crazy my girls are about dressing up and how I struggle to keep up with the million costume changes we have every day, someone sent us a beautiful rail to hang their dresses on and help me regain my sanity. I also feel the website has given me some confidence back after not being in my job for such a long time; I was just coming to the end of my maternity leave year in November 2016 when Greg was diagnosed and I've been caring for him ever since.
What music do you listen to? Have your kids inherited your music taste?
The only time I find to listen to music anymore is in the car! My old iPod Classic is still going strong so I have that on shuffle with stuff I've loved from years ago - dark, gloomy stuff like The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Deftones or English indie like Bombay Bicycle Club, The Smiths and Bloc Party. My kids hate that stuff; they are really into pop music like Justin Timberlake or anything from a Disney soundtrack. Especially as Greg works in the music industry, our mission is to educate them in music. I remember my dad sitting me and my brother down and forcing us to listen to Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart as some kind of education into 'real music'. I still don't listen to Zappa so maybe you are just meant to listen to different music to your parents!
Party out or party at home?
I used to be a party out five nights a week person - the person whould would get out of bed at 11.30pm to go out if I saw others were at a club! But now I am very much party at home; I'm all about the blankets, the wine, the boxsets and the toy poodle sat on my lap.
Any exciting future plans to share?
I am just about to start writing my own weekly newspaper column about living with stage 4 cancer and small kids. I'm also going to be speaking at the So: To Speak Festival of Words in Southampton on the power of storytelling to overcome difficult situations.
You can follow Stacey and her family over at the following links: