Leigh: “The online courses are great throughout your life – whenever you need that boost”

Firefighter Leigh Forster has received our support through a long journey with cancer, not only with his physical health, but also online and in our centres to help aid his mental wellbeing.

When Leigh Forster was diagnosed with melanoma in 2018, he faced an uncertain road ahead of him with three operations in quick succession.

However, central to his concerns at the time was getting fit enough to return to the job he loved as a firefighter with Avon FRS as quickly as possible.

Having supported us for years, Leigh, 50, knew to turn to us for support with his recovery. He says that first contact sparked a life-changing journey with us, both physically and mentally.

“It wasn’t until 2018 that I first called the Charity for help,” says Leigh. “Shortly after I was diagnosed with melanoma I had to have three lots of surgery in quite quick succession.

“The third lot of surgery required quite a bit of physio and a long recovery, so I immediately contacted the Charity to enquire about physical rehab, to try and build up my fitness to get back to work.”

Leigh was invited to Marine Court in the July of that year, to work on building up his physical fitness on one of our rehabilitation programmes.

“I had my own workout plan, physio sessions, workshops, walks every day, group sessions, and it’s exactly what I needed at that time,” he adds.

“I got a tremendous amount out of it. I hadn’t wanted to push myself before that, for fear of making things worse, so that week was the push I really needed.”

Leigh was able to return to modified duties shortly after his visit, before being invited to a follow-up later that year.

“The second visit was more tailored to helping me get back on the run again, and involved a lot of job-related tasks. It was hugely helpful and I was able to return fully to work that September.”

While Leigh was given the all clear that year, the cancer returned in 2020 in his lymph nodes.

“That time I had immunotherapy, which is similar to chemo but it boosts your immune system,” says Leigh. “Shortly after that, while in lockdown, I did a couple of the Charity’s courses online – including the Hope Programme.

“The online courses were particularly helpful during lockdown, but they’re great throughout your life too – whenever you need that boost.

“I also managed to get some online counselling from the psychological services team around that time too, which was what I really needed. Everybody wants mental health support at different stages of their cancer journey, and for me, that was the right time.

“Even though I probably had a lot of the tools I needed to cope with the cancer coming back already, having that support just helped me kickstart myself and reminded me of them.”

Leigh once again returned to work, before discovering the cancer had returned around a year later – this time in his brain. It was later diagnosed as Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma.

“I had a procedure, Gamma Knife Surgery or also known as Targeted Radiotherapy, and this single treatment was 100% successful. But of course I was conscious of the impact on my mental health again at that point,” says Leigh.

“I once again spoke to the Charity and was invited down to Harcombe House on the Reset Programme, which was really useful, really helpful, particularly with all the group sessions.”

Leigh followed this up with a rest and recharge stay with us, which are weeks designed to offer our beneficiaries a break away from the challenges of day to day life – and it’s something he says he found particularly beneficial.

Now, Leigh is in remission with no active disease/cancer for over two years. He hopes by sharing his experiences, he’ll encourage others to reach out for our support at any time they feel they’d benefit from it – the earlier the better.

“I now regularly speak to other personnel in stations and alongside the Charity’s Community Fundraiser to share my personal story. I think, hearing from someone who’s had this fantastic support, can make a real difference – particularly when it comes to showing people just why it’s so important to donate regularly. Those donations go such a long way.”

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.

Please note, our next online Hope Programme for all beneficiaries is from 29 February to 11 April, 2024. To sign up, click here.

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