Buried on his birthday

We made some pre­cious mem­o­ries dur­ing Nigel’s fight

Chat - - Come On In! - By Anita Bals­don, 48, from Brad­wor­thy, Devon

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

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