Graham’s story

Wife Marilyn shares her and Graham's story. Their life together and how the hospice was able to support them both through Graham's cancer diagnosis.

Image of a man smiling

“Graham was the life and soul of the party.”

There was one comment I came across in all the cards I received after Graham died which read, ‘he made us laugh’. Laughter was one of the most important things in life for Graham and our family and he was such fun to be around.

Alongside his wicked sense of humour, he was typically British and a great romantic – but only in private. The first time he ever took me out, he had grey flannels on with black shoes, blazer and tie. My mother said, “I think he’s a very nice boy darling”. At the time, I was a fashion model at Debenhams in Marylebone, and he was working nearby as a rep in textiles, often flying to America to make sales.

“58 years of marriage is quite something”

Graham was a brilliant husband and father to our two sons and would do anything for his many grandchildren. Don’t get me wrong, as a couple we did have our arguments, but that’s all part of it. I can be quite a forceful lady and Graham was a great leveler – always looking out for me and keeping me on an even keel.

When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 41, he was just amazing. I was lucky that it was contained and I only needed an operation, but I think it took that first brush with cancer for us to really appreciate how precious life is. After that, neither of us took anything for granted. Graham continued to work incredibly hard and by this point he’d moved from selling textiles to being a Senior Director for an industrial roofing company – working on big buildings including Gatwick and Heathrow.

Having lived in Dorking for over 21 years, we decided to move and came to Ferring. Now semi-retired, we wanted to travel and make the most of life at full speed.

Nostalgic pic of Graham and wife

 “After five years things changed completely.”

The next time we heard the words “I’m sorry, it’s cancer” was in September 2019. But this time it was Graham, and incurable. He had been to the doctor many times with awful neck pain, and by the time it was picked up the cancer had spread from his kidneys to his spine.

What followed was a very frightening stay in hospital, where we were told an operation to remove the tumours would be too dangerous as it could leave him paralysed. At one point, he had five doctors around the bed and we didn’t know if he would survive the night, so it was a huge relief when he did come home. At that point, he was faced with learning to live with the disease and I was really struggling to cope after coming so close to losing him. That’s when St Barnabas came into our lives.

“St B’s were there for both of us”

When you see the man you love feeling so unwell and in terrible pain, it’s heartbreaking. I was terrified as I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to hurt him or say the wrong thing. So, when Graham was offered a stay at St Barnabas for help controlling his symptoms, it was the best thing that could have happened to us.

It’s strange to say, but as tragic and as upsetting as that time was it was also full of fun. The hospice nurses were such a laugh and Graham kept everyone entertained with his adventurous life stories. He had a big room which looked out on to the gardens and would always wave through the window at all the ladies that passed by. He was an outrageous flirt!

One thing I’ll never forget was when Graham was offered a drink and the nurse asked if he wanted tea, coffee, or a glass of wine. “A glass of wine?”, he said, “I’ll have a bottle!” And she produced a bottle of red which sat by his bed so he could enjoy a glass each night. It’s those little things, together with the constant care and compassion we were both shown, that made it all bearable.

“I started to have counselling”

After a month at St B’s, Graham came back home stronger and I felt better able to cope after some respite. Adjusting to the role of carer, as well as wife, wasn’t easy though and I can honestly say the thing that got me through that time was the counselling sessions I had with a lady called Becky from the hospice.

I could say things to Becky that I couldn’t to Graham. She took the time to get to know me, and those weekly sessions gave me a chance to focus on my needs as well as helping me understand how Graham was feeling.

“The gym was Graham’s escape from his cancer”

Graham wasn’t keen on the idea of counselling himself, but the hospice gym became his weekly therapy. He would look forward to going and just loved the atmosphere there and had such a giggle with the Therapy Team. It’s a strange thing to say, but I think the exercise sessions gave him a sense of achievement over the disease. To put it bluntly, when he was in the gym he didn’t feel like he was dying. It gave him his independence back and a ‘you’re not going to beat me’ kind of attitude which I admired. And when he came home, he was able to walk better and wouldn’t need his stick.

Nostalgic image of Graham

“A year after his diagnosis, Graham’s health really deteriorated”

We’d been making the most of summer by spending time with friends and family in the garden. Staying close to home felt like a comfort blanket, but then Graham started to desperately lose weight and was having falls.

Having been such a vibrant and active man this was horrendous to see, and by November 2020 I knew instinctively that he needed to go back to St Barnabas. On the third day after he’d been readmitted, I received a call to say I should hurry back. As I left the house, I saw a shooting star and looked up and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get there in time.” He waited long enough to see me and the kids, and I went straight over to him and told him how much I loved him. Everyone was so gentle and caring and I often wonder where the doctors and nurses get their courage from in those moments.

“He was just someone special”

I still look at Graham’s photo every day and say “good morning my shooting star”. I am a great believer that he hears what I say and I will see him again. I do get lonely, and if I’m feeling unhappy I’ll speak to my friends and family – especially my immediate neighbours. Together, we celebrated Graham’s wake a few months ago which had been delayed because of COVID-19. I think he’d be pleased as it was one hell of a party on a glorious sunny day!

I still miss his laughter every day, but I know I wouldn’t have managed to get to the stage I am now without the hospice and the ongoing counselling I’ve received. So, to say thank you I am holding a fundraising event and will be volunteering so I can give back a little of kindness and generosity that Graham and I experienced.