Buried on his birthday
We made some precious memories during Nigel’s fight
Reaching for an overhead smash, a man at the end of the sports hall caught my eye. Burly with a belly laugh, you could hardly miss him.
‘I’m Nigel,’ he grinned as I introduced myself.
I saw him most weeks from then on.
Nigel had a brilliant sense of humour and liked to pull my leg. I always fell for his jokes.
My badminton shots improved, too, under the expert tuition of ‘Big Nige’ as his friends called him. We never stopped laughing, and soon realised something. We were soul mates. Nigel and I each had two kids of our own. But we moved in together and created one big, happy family. We married four years later. Nigel’s son Chaz, then 22, and daughter Claire, 20, were there, along with my two, Chantelle, 14, and Jamie, 11. The years flew by. Nigel worked hard at his plumbing business and I worked as a payroll clerk. We loved our holidays, and Nigel was happiest on the football pitch where he was a goalkeeper, before moving on to refereeing, then helping manage the village team. Then, in October 2013, he had to go to hospital for a hip replacement. Afterwards, Nigel was plagued by headaches. ‘It’s probably the aftereffects of the anaesthetic,’ I reassured him. Then a friend noticed a droop on the left of his lip.
His GP booked an MRI at Barnstaple Hospital.
Twentyfour hours later, on 4 February 2014, we were back for the results.
‘We’ve found three brain tumours. You’ve got a year at most to live,’ the doctor said.
We both went white. Nigel was only 53.
We broke the news to the children.
‘I won’t give up,’ Nigel told them. ‘I’ll try every treatment.’
He had more tests at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth.
They revealed Nigel had three primary gliomas – aggressive brain tumours. He needed urgent surgery to remove them. ‘What if he doesn’t?’ I asked. ‘He’ll be dead in three months,’ replied the surgeon. My head was spinning. On 21 February, before Nigel was wheeled down for surgery, he said, ‘If I don’t make it, find someone else.’ ‘Don’t be silly,’ I smiled. When I went to see him after the eight-hour op, he was sitting up and chatting.
Days later, he became agitated. Tests showed a blood clot in the brain, along with a chest infection and the beginnings of sepsis.
Nigel was rushed back into surgery to remove the clot.
After that, he was back in ICU.
Two days later, he smiled and squeezed my hand. He was finally discharged after three weeks in hospital.
The doctors had managed to remove most of the largest tumour at the top of his brain and around 60 to 70 per cent of the two near his right ear.
Nigel went through chemo and radiotherapy
He had three aggressive brain tumours
during spring 2014. Things were looking good. So we started living life again. We flew to watch our team, Manchester United, play at Old Trafford. Next, we went to London to the theatre, had weekends away visiting loved ones. Claire made us grandparents and Nigel doted on baby Xavier. For Christmas 2015, we were chosen by the Disabled Supporters Association to meet the Man United players. ‘We’ve still got some living to be done,’ I told Nigel. ‘Keep fighting until they find a cure.’ He nodded. ‘How about a cruise?’ I asked Nigel one day. ‘They do a wedding package, so we can renew our vows.’
‘If it makes you happy, then I’m happy!’ Nigel grinned. It’s what he always said. I booked a two-week trip around Norway and the Arctic Circle for March last year.
We really had the best time.
Back home, Nigel began to have trouble with balance and mobility, and needed to use a walking frame.
By last October, he was diagnosed with a bleed on the brain. Then an MRI revealed really bad news. Nigel’s biggest brain tumour was back suddenly.
‘There’s nothing more we can do,’ the neurosurgeon told us. We both cried tears of shock. Back at home, two carers started coming four times a day.
On 4 March, we were home alone as Nigel’s breathing began to change.
I turned down the lights, got into bed with him and held his hands, as I’d promised I would.
I stayed with him after he passed, talking, crying.
It’d been 37 months since Nigel was diagnosed. Amazingly, he’d beaten the first death sentence of one year.
We buried Nigel on his 57th birthday, a bittersweet day.
After Nigel’s diagnosis, we got involved with the charity Brain Tumour Research.
And though he’s gone, I still have work to do. I want people to know that living with brain cancer is possible.
I’m also looking forward to holidays with the children and having time with our grandson.
As Nigel always said, ‘If you’re happy, then I’m happy.’
So I’ve got to keep smiling for him.
Though he’s gone, I still have work to do