The Johnston Family

“Within 24 hours we’d gone from expecting our second child, to Victoria needing an operation for cancer”

The Johnston Family

“Within 24 hours we’d gone from expecting our second child, to Victoria needing an operation for cancer”

Army Sergeant Marc Johnston is taking on an ultra-challenge to raise funds and awareness for SSAFA, the armed forces charity which helped him in his ‘darkest hour’.

Marc, a Sergeant in the Army and his wife Victoria were expecting their second child together, Marc’s third. It was a tough pregnancy and Victoria was in a lot of pain, but doctors said her symptoms were perfectly normal. It wasn’t until their 12-week scan that it was revealed nothing was ‘normal’.

In the back of Marc’s mind he said he knew something wasn’t right: "I was quite concerned there were so many little things that just made me worried…I was worried that we were going to lose the baby. I never ever thought that it could be anything more sinister than that.

“At the scan I noticed that the midwife was looking shocked. She turned me and Victoria and said ‘I am really sorry but there is no baby there’.”

The couple were sent for further tests which revealed Victoria had a cancerous growth – a molar pregnancy (which mimics symptoms of pregnancy). She was sent for an operation and then referred to Charing Cross for specialist care.

“Once we left the hospital on the first day, we’d been for our scan and then sat in a quiet room talking to a doctor, we got into the car and Victoria looked at me and said ‘I’m going to be okay aren’t I?’ and in my head I didn’t know, but I wanted to give the right answer and say ‘of course you are’ but still if I think of that is haunts me now. At first I think maybe I saw it as a death sentence and certainly over thought what was to come.

“I would have given anything for it to be me having the chemotherapy and me going through it because I love Victoria. I found it hard, I carried a lot of the worry. Victoria was mentally strong and really positive. I was worried. Worried that I was going to lose my wife, I didn’t know what to expect.”

At this point the couple were referred to SSAFA via an army welfare officer. They helped the couple with £2,400 worth of childcare costs for their 2-year old daughter Kaitlin, while they travelled back and forth from Bovington Camp in Dorset to London for Victoria to have chemotherapy. A huge strain on the family finances.

“I was quite proud. I would probably have struggled rather than seek help, but that decision was taken out of my hands and that was the best thing really because I was worried about loss of income and also alongside that a huge, huge difference in our outgoings. Instead of just the usual day to day costs we had to drive to hospital in London, pay £50 a day for parking there – at home we always had to have the heating on because of the chemotherapy so it was like living in a sauna. The costs were just huge in every way.”

Victoria was stoic throughout her treatment, but her conditioned worsened in January and she became bedridden. The chemotherapy course she was on was poisoning her.

“Because of the type of cancer being vascular, so it could burst at any point, Victoria wasn’t allowed to hold Kaitlin, so Kaitlin had already gone from having a really loving mummy, to a mummy that had to be careful and distant. When Kaitlin was ill Victoria wasn’t allowed to be with her.

“One of the hardest things I saw was Kaitlin having D and V and being inconsolable and me and Victoria not being able to comfort her. Victoria couldn’t be around anyone with a bug, and if I caught that bug as well then that care for Victoria stopped. And Victoria was more heartbroken about that than anything to do with the cancer. So SSAFA meant we could keep normality in Kaitlin’s life, and even when there was bad stuff going on, we knew she was still having a good time in nursery.”

Doctors put Victoria on a different course of chemotherapy and Victoria’s condition improved. In May this year she was told the cancer had been treated.

Now Marc is cycling from John O’Groats to Lands’ End, then to Exeter, and completing the challenge by running 4 marathons, ending with a military welcome at the Armour Centre in Bovington.

Starting on 12th October until 25th October Marc hopes to raise £10,000 for SSAFA, Cancer Treatment and Research Trust Charing Cross Branch, The Kings Royal Hussars Regimental Association, The Household Cavalry Regimental Association, RBL and the Bovington and Lulworth Welfare Fund. 30% will go to SSAFA. 

I’m doing this because I want to give something back that is out of my comfort zone.

I never thought, especially at 36 and Victoria at 31, that we would need to ask for help. Especially for cancer. But without SSAFA, and without the support we received I don’t think we’d be where we are now. I know Victoria would have received her treatment, but mentally the way everything was, it would have been so much harder.

I’d just like to thank SSAFA from the bottom of our hearts. It made life so much easier.”