“Neil was the love and light of my life and our love story began when I moved to London to start my new job.
“I decided to train in martial arts to give me more confidence around town. One Sunday, feeling particularly bleary-eyed, I walked into the dojo late and stopped. My instructor had been replaced by a tall, strong, beautiful man. Who immediately shot me down with a withering teacher look for daring to be so tardy.
“And that is how our story began. Neil coached me in some ninja moves and we eventually ended up on a date. The rest, as they say, is history.
“We embraced our weekends after working hard all week. Neil was athletic and loved living. We roller-bladed (one of us fell over a lot, the other glided), we climbed (one of us felt a little bit dizzy on the top ropes, the other conquered the world), travelled (one of us burned, the other bronzed) and generally hung out with each other as best friends and soulmates (both of us fell in love hard).
“Eventually we moved in together and settled into an easy life of support and love and laughter and on a cycling trip around the Isle of Wight we decided to make a family. In 2011, we turned from two to three. In 2014, we turned from three to four. In 2015, we moved into our family home and found out we would turn from four to five.
“Unfortunately for us we also found out that Neil had cancer. When my daughter was born I carried her a couple of days later across the hospital to see her daddy, who had been admitted for investigation of a tumour in his bladder. A couple of weeks later I carried her into the doctor’s office and a serious team of people sat us down and told us Neil had aggressive bladder cancer. He was 43.
“After a huge operation, we went to see him at the hospital. He was on an exercise bike. Proving he could move and get stronger so he could come home to his family. Where he belonged.
“And so we carried on with life until two years later a scan turned up a patch on his lungs. Part of his lung was removed. On my 40th birthday, I drove into London to collect him and brought him back; the best gift. He endured chemotherapy like a trooper. Eventually it knocked him down, but when it was over he built himself back up playing tennis and cycling and pottering around in the shed building pallet projects and doing woodwork.
“All seemed fine for a while longer. We faced the global pandemic. As a headteacher, Neil was working hard all of the time, but we also got to see him more as he worked from home a lot – something teachers can never normally do. We walked every day – the daily walk – in the forests, around our local lovely reservoir, through the fields. He made crafts with the kids. We spent time together, and that time was so remarkably precious with hindsight.
“Then in 2021 he felt a twinge in his groin when he was working in the garden. We hoped it was nothing. But it was something. It was bone cancer. And you can’t have that surgically removed. So with searing pain that kept him awake all night, that meant he limped and found every position unbearable, he went through radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
“Eventually, the cancer team suggested he contact his local hospice, St Clare, for pain management. This was my first experience of a hospice, I just knew them as places where people are taken care of in their final days. We were hoping for pain management so that he could take up chemo again and we (he) could rejoin the fight.
“Neil was desperately looking forward to going, home was hard on him. He needed undivided attention and constant medication and I couldn’t provide the level of care those angels at St Clare can. I kept asking though when he would come back and eventually we had a meeting where we found out he would only come back for end-of- life care at home. My heart shattered.
“We got him back a couple of days before Christmas in 2021. On Christmas Day, he returned to the Hospice. He needed their attention and skill. They gave him comfort and eased his pain.
“Home wasn’t the place for his final journey; St Clare was. And for that I am eternally grateful. No brave faces. No undue suffering. Just care, compassion and respect. He passed away in January 2022, I was with him in his own room, listening to his favourite music. Me and my husband; with love to last a thousand lifetimes.”