The Importance of a Strong Support System
- Famous TV host Jonnie Irwin, husband and father of three, was diagnosed in 2020 with stage four lung cancer, which metastasized to his brain.
- Irwin, who prides himself on spending as much time as he can with his wife and children, recently shared a sweet photo from his seventh wedding anniversary celebration amid his ongoing cancer battle.
- “Going through [cancer] treatment is a very vulnerable and emotionally exhausting experience,” licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Marianna Strongin wrote in a column for SurvivorNet. “Noticing what you have strength for and what is feeling like too much, [is] extremely important to pay attention to as you navigate treatment.”
- Dr. Strongin does note, however, that having people by your side during this “arduous chapter” of your life can be hugely beneficial. She explained, “Studies have found consistently that loneliness is a significant risk factor for physical and mental illnesses and the trajectory of recovery. Therefore, it will be important that you surround yourself with individuals who care and support you throughout your treatment.”
Just this week he took to social media to celebrate his seventh wedding anniversary with his “angel” wife Jessica Holmes, mother to their three sons.
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His heartwarming words were accompanied by a sweet photo of him and his 40-year-old wife sitting across from each other in a restaurant, enjoying some champaign.
The loving couple, parents to four-year-old Rex and three-year-old twin boys, Rafa and Cormac, were pictured at a wooden table in a family-run neighborhood bistro called Lovage Jesmond, located in Newcastle, U.K.
According to the eatery’s Instagram page, the restaurant serves modern Mediterranean dishes and the dessert plate pictured on the table while Irwin and his wife were photographed appears to be “white chocolate, rose, brûlée and madeleine.”
Irwin’s anniversary was flooded with kind words from fans and former costars, with “A Place in the Sun” star Jasmine Harman commenting, “Gosh 7 years! I remember your wedding day like yesterday! Lots of love to you both and Happy Anniversary.”
His fellow TV presenter Amanda Lamb also responded, wishing the “happiest of days” ahead.
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Irwin’s celebration of his relationship with his wife comes amid his well-awaited return to TV screens.
Fans of “Escape to the Country” were ecstatic to see Irwin return on the September 25, 2023, episode of the BBC series to present.
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“Good news to start the week, there’s a brand new episode of @escape_country airing tomorrow on @bbcone at 3pm and it’s one of mine!” he wrote in a post promoting the episode.
“I head down to Somerset and look at some fantastic rural properties in some beautiful locations. Plus I also get to visit a cider farm- perks of the job. Hope you enjoy.”
In a followup post, shared just a few days ago, Irwin applauded his team for the episodes success, telling fans, “Just been told about the overnight viewing figures from our show on Monday; 22% audience share, 1 million viewers and slot winner!
“Well done to all of our team on @escape_country and thanks to you so much for watching, I must admit we had a lot of fun filming this episode.”
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Irwin has been battling stage 4 lung cancer since 2020. It’s been a tough battle, but Irwin is focusing on his work, spending time with friends, and, most importantly, making memories with his wife and children.
We’re happy to see Irwin focusing his energy on things that bring him joy despite his ongoing fight with late-stage lung cancer.
We should note that we do not know the exact type of lung cancer Irwin has. But there are two main types of lung cancer, which doctors group together based on how they act and how they’re treated:
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type and makes up about 85% of cases. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is less common, but it tends to grow faster than NSCLC and is treated very differently.
Jonnie Irwin’s Cancer Battle
Jonnie Irwin’s cancer journey began when symptoms arrived in August 2020. His first symptom occurred during a filming trip when his vision went blurry while driving. After he returned home, he was told he had metastatic lung cancer that had spread to his brain.
WATCH: Diagnosing Lung Cancer.
One of the most worrisome parts of lung cancer is its lack of symptoms until the cancer has already spread, says SurvivorNet medical advisor, Dr. Joseph Friedberg.
However, once a person suspected of having lung cancer experience symptoms, their doctor can further investigate the cause with an X-ray to look for anything unusual.
“The question is, well, what stage is it? And so, at this point, the entire workup, is an effort to try and determine, do we think that the cancer is spread anywhere? And the things that you would ask for about lung cancer– specifically, any change in your breathing? Do you have a cough? Have you lost any weight? Do you have any pain anywhere? All of these things start to tick off in your head, whether they have other potential problems,” Dr. Friedberg said.
Some people with lung cancer may experience symptoms like:
- A cough that doesn’t go away, that gets worse, or that brings up bloody phlegm
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Hoarse voice
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
Irwin has since taken chemotherapy and other cancer drugs to help prolong his life, but Irwin knows his disease does not technically have a cure. Still, he’s focusing on the positive which includes his supportive wife and their three toddler-age boys.
“One day, this is going to catch up with me,” Irwin said during an interview with the U.K.-based news outlet The Sun.
“But I’m doing everything I can to hold that day off for as long as possible. I owe that to Jess and our boys. Some people in my position have bucket lists, but I just want us to do as much as we can as a family.”
Earlier this summer, Irwin revealed he would go into hospice care periodically when he’s not feeling well. He adds, going into hospice to receive comfort care helps mask his diagnosis from his children. In a television interview with BBC Morning Live, he revealed he’s been going to hospice care since his diagnosis roughly 3 years ago.
However, since undergoing palliative care it’s changed his outlook on what late-stage cancer care is like.
“It’s a delight, actually. My perception of the hospice was very much a boiling hot room full of people that looked frail and towards the end of their days. This is nothing of the sort. It’s spacious, energized, and comfortable. I mean, it’s even got a jacuzzi bath, and ensuite rooms, and the staff are just amazing. So I’ve had a really, really good experience at my hospice,” Irwin explained.
WATCH: Cancer patients finding joy during treatment.
Experts like Dr. Dana Chase, a gynecological oncologist at Arizona Center for Cancer Care, say people with cancer should be making time to do things that make them happy. By focusing on things that bring joyful emotions, it can help your overall emotional health, which Irwin appears to be ding.
“We know from good studies that emotional health is associated with survival, meaning better quality of life is associated with better outcomes,” Chase said.
“So working on your emotional health, your physical well-being, your social environment [and] your emotional well-being are important and can impact your survival. If that’s related to what activities you do that bring you joy, then you should try to do more of those activities,” Dr. Chase says.
Support From Family During Health Challenges
Having a strong community around you, as Jonnie Irwin does, is ideal when challenged by health struggles.
Dealing with cancer or any sort of health battle for that matter can be overwhelming, so having physical and emotional support is crucial. That being said, it’s very important to know your limits on what you can handle as you undergo treatment and recover from your cancer, and that includes relationships.
“Going through [cancer] treatment is a very vulnerable and emotionally exhausting experience,” licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Marianna Strongin wrote in a column for SurvivorNet. “Noticing what you have strength for and what is feeling like too much, [is] extremely important to pay attention to as you navigate treatment.”
Dr. Strongin does note, however, that having people by your side during this “arduous chapter” of your life can be hugely beneficial.
“Studies have found consistently that loneliness is a significant risk factor for physical and mental illnesses and the trajectory of recovery,” she wrote. “Therefore, it will be important that you surround yourself with individuals who care and support you throughout your treatment.”
Ovarian cancer survivor Beverly Reeves can also attest to the importance of support and a loving community amid fighting a disease.
“If I had one piece of advice for someone who had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it would be to get a strong support group together. Get your close friends. If you’re connected to a faith community, get your faith community,” Reeves told SurvivorNet in an earlier interview.
“Get your family. Let them know what’s going on and let them help you. And sometimes that’s the most difficult thing to do, but just know that they are there,” she continued. “If they love you, they’re there to help you. And don’t be embarrassed.”
“Because this is a cancer that not a lot of people want to talk about,” she said. “But it’s real and we need to talk about it, and we do need that help. So talk to your family and your friends and your faith community, and get that network together so they can support you and be there for you.”
Working Through Cancer
Although, Irwin did decide to take a break from work amid his journey with cancer, we’re delighted to see him back on TV screens and doing what he loves. Working after a cancer diagnosis is also a decision many cancer warriors face: to go back to work or not.
Some people can continue to work during cancer treatment and some may need to take some time away. The reality is it depends on the person, their cancer, and the treatment.
Doctors and social workers within the oncology field tell SurvivorNet that they recommend working during cancer treatment if you can. Work creates a sense of normalcy in a person’s life.
Not only does it provide a needed source of income, but it also reminds you that you have a life apart from cancer.
A work life also encourages regular contact with others. Sometimes cancer can make you feel isolated and lonely, and being around people can be a great comfort.
Still, whatever path you choose is best for you, it is valid.
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff