Smiling to the end
Our time together will be short...but we’ll make it sweet
As Dave and I watched our dogs playing in the field, our eyes met. It was April 2010 and we’d gone for a latenight walk under the stars.
‘It’s beautiful,’ I smiled, gazing up at the sky.
We were both single, both had dogs that needed exercise.
The perfect excuse to spend time together.
Soon our walks were getting longer. And my feelings for Dave, then 25, were getting stronger.
Then, one day, Dave turned up at my house.
‘We have to give this a try,’ he said. ‘I really like you.’ ‘Me too!’ I replied. I quickly knew that Dave was The One. But I knew something else, too. That we might not have long together.
You see, Dave had been born with cystic fibrosis (CF).
Seeing us getting close, his brother, Scott, then 21, had taken me aside.
‘He can’t have children,’ he’d said bluntly. ‘He has CF.’
I’d never heard of it, and Scott reeled off a list of terrifying facts.
He was just worried, didn’t want to see his big brother get hurt. But it’d been a shock. I went home, read a lot more about it online, and what I discovered reduced me to tears.
CF is a genetic condition causing thick, sticky mucus to build up on the lungs, digestive system and other organs.
The condition leaves 98 per cent of male sufferers infertile.
And life expectancy is only to the mid-30s.
But I knew it didn’t make a difference to my feelings.
Dave was funny, kind and considerate.
As a single mum to Tyler, then 9, Harley, 4, and Corey, 13 months, Dave’s infertility didn’t bother me.
And his bravery in fighting this terrible illness only made me love him more.
Still, I didn’t tell Dave what I knew, I wanted him to tell me in his own time.
But, soon after, he started pushing me away.
He’d tell me he was practising with his band, but I’d see posts from other members on Facebook, showing they were out with their girlfriends.
Not with Dave.
I knew it was because of his CF that he was trying to protect me.
‘I know you’re ill,’ I blurted out one day when we’d been together two months. ‘Scott told me.’
I told Dave I was already in love with him.
‘It doesn’t change anything,’ I promised.
‘I love you, too,’ Dave said, holding me. Finally, he let me into his heart.
That July, we moved in together and Dave was amazing with the boys.
His fight with CF became our fight.
His mum, Karen, 62, who’d been Dave’s carer, taught me to do his physiotherapy.
Several times a day, I’d do his ‘chest percussion’, patting his chest, back and sides for 40 minutes to help clear his lungs of mucus.
He relied on a nebuliser – an inhaler that delivers antibiotics straight to his lungs.
Plus he needed almost 50 tablets a day to help him digest food and keep his respiratory symptom in check.
Yet he never moaned.
The following summer, Dave was hit by a common cold.
A normal person has a lung function of around 85 per cent. Dave never had that – but after the infection, although his lung function plummeted from 43 to 23 per cent, he never lost his sense of humour.
And in December 2011, he proposed.
‘I want to marry you before I croak it,’ he joked.
So, in July 2014, we married in the most wonderful wedding ceremony.
‘In sickness and in health,’ I vowed, gulping back tears.
After, we made the most of every moment.
But in February 2017, Dave was struck down by two untreatable infections – each infection scars his lungs irreparably.
By that September, his lung
His bravery fighting this only made me love him more
function dropped to its lowest ever – just 17 per cent.
He struggled to climb stairs, talked in a croaky whisper.
We couldn’t kiss, either, as it left Dave breathless.
‘Well, you’ve always taken my breath away,’ I joked.
I tried to follow Dave’s lead and keep smiling, but when the doctor told us Dave only had six to 18 months left, I was floored.
He was so weak, even a cold could kill him.
Worse, he wasn’t eligible for a lung transplant because he had an untreatable infection and his body would reject them straight away. ‘We’re not ready,’ I wept. Truth was, I’d never be ready to lose Dave.
He’d already started writing a bucket list: go to a film premiere, visit a spa, watch his beloved Huddersfield Town play at Wembley Stadium.
Now, we became more determined to finish it.
With Dave too ill to work, and me his full-time carer, we were struggling for money.
So I set up a fundraising page aiming to raise £8,000, and people were so generous. Slowly, we ticked things off. Got all dressed up for the UK premiere of Logan Lucky in Leicester Square, London.
Plus Disneyland Paris with Tyler, now 16, Harley, 11, and Corey, 8... And Wembley. But Dave’s time is running out. His eyes are tired, grey. And I know we won’t get round to everything on his list.
Even thinking about life without Dave leaves me broken.
But he doesn’t want sympathy. He wants to do a skydive, go glamping, see the Northern Lights...
The items left on his list keep him fighting.
So as long as he doesn’t give up, I won’t either.
Even with a death sentence hanging over us, we’re determined to keep smiling.
Until the very end.