Caz: “Our stay helped us reset and find some headspace after a very difficult two years”

Caz Lee and her husband George, both of whom work for Cambridgeshire FRS, experienced a very challenging two years after a series of bereavements and George being diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Sometimes, a change of scenery and some time away from your day-to-day life can be exactly what you need to recharge during challenging times.

And Caz Lee says a week at Harcombe House, our centre in Devon, provided exactly that for her and her husband George.

Both Caz and George work for Cambridgeshire FRS – she works in Executive Support and he is a Logistics Support Assistant – and have done a lot of fundraising for us over the years.

However, it was only in recent years that they experienced our support first-hand – following a very difficult couple of years.

“Four years ago, one of our really close friends, Will Baker, took his own life,” says Caz. “He was a volunteer firefighter and he was found at the station, so I was heavily involved afterwards workwise, but both of us more so at home as we were very close to him and his wife.

“It was at the start of Covid too, which made arrangements afterwards a lot more difficult.”

While they both struggled to come to terms with the devastating news in the year that followed, she says they then experienced more grief the following year.

“We actually lost another work colleague, who had a brain tumour that following year,” says Caz. “From there it really felt like one thing after another… George’s uncle passed away between Christmas and New Year after a battle with lung cancer, then George himself was diagnosed with testicular cancer in the April.

“We also have some really close friends who we see as grandparents – Ted and Mary -and Ted was told he had Stage 4 oesophagus cancer the exact same day as George’s diagnosis.

“George’s was luckily treatable with an operation over the following weeks, mainly because he’d got it so early, but unfortunately we knew that Ted’s was terminal.

“They gave Ted 12 months, unfortunately he only lasted six. I actually moved in with Ted and Mary in his last two weeks, because he wanted to pass away at home. It meant I was with him when he died, and it hit me particularly hard. That was the October of 2021. To have everything we had in under two years, it all felt too much… for me personally, it was Ted passing that felt like one thing too many.”

Caz began to struggle with her sleep and her overall wellbeing took a major downturn in the months that followed. However, she says she didn’t open up about it immediately – something she says she now regrets.

“I was working from home at the time and I found myself crying on and off all day,” she adds. “I just felt raw and was having terrible memory nightmares where I was caring for Ted – but it was actually George in his place. They were so bad that I was putting off going to sleep, then struggling with that too.

“It was this horrible cycle of lack of sleep and constant anxiety. Amongst all of this, George had recovered from his surgery and was having regular monitoring appointments as there is a 40% chance of it coming back; every time he had one I’d be imagining the worst.

“George dealt with it with great bravery and humour and seemed to handle it all a lot better than me. He didn’t worry about something until it happened, whereas I’m the opposite, and spent a lot of time worrying about ‘what ifs’. Because of that, I hid a lot of how I was feeling from him so as not to upset him and wasn’t open enough about how I was feeling.

“I was getting to the point where I was constantly thinking, ‘I could be a widow before I’m even 40’, I was spiralling and, because it was Covid, I couldn’t see my friends and family to talk things through.

“After Will died, as well as the overwhelming grief, I also felt a lot of anger which was really confusing for me at the time – and that stuck with me for a long time. After Ted passed away, I knew I needed help and thought, ‘I can’t be mad at Will for not talking to someone and then not talk to anyone myself’. That’s what pushed me to reach out to our welfare team at work.”

Caz initially spoke to her Welfare Advisor, who put her in touch with a counsellor. Meanwhile, having known about our support, she also got in touch with us. We subsequently offered her and George a Rest and Recharge stay at Harcombe House.

“It really helped us both to reset and have some much-needed headspace and time together. It helped us both in different ways to be honest,” says Caz.

“We had a lot of walks in the grounds and found ourselves opening up to each other more. George hadn’t been happy in his job for a while, for example, and that’s what led him to join the fire service after that visit. He loves his job now.”

“This is just our way of giving back where we can”

Caz Lee

Since his diagnosis, George has also been incredibly open about his experience with cancer in the hopes of prompting more men to get tested if they’re concerned about anything – particularly as he caught his early which likely saved his life.

Caz, meanwhile, is hoping to spread the word more around support staff in her service, many of whom may not be aware they’re also eligible for our support.

And the couple continue to fundraise for us as well – something they’ve done tirelessly for a number of years.

“George and his family have always raised money for the charity,” says Caz. “They own a steam traction engine which they painted red and yellow and had collection pots on. We now run a steam and fire show as a family now, because George also owns a 30-year-old preserved fire engine – like you do! All the funds from that go to the charity, which is heading into its ninth year this summer.

“So we’ve always been heavily involved in raising funds, we’d just never used the services ourselves until the last couple of years. We’re incredibly grateful for the help we received – this is just our way of giving back where we can.”

If you feel you’d benefit from our health and wellbeing support, you can call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820, make an enquiry online or visit the ‘Access Support’ tab in My Fire Fighters Charity.

And remember – if you’re feeling suicidal, you can call our Crisis Line 24 hours a day on 0300 373 0896.