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Andy's wife Val
Andy lost his wife Val to ovarian cancer

When Andy first caught a glimpse of Val, he knew immediately that she was the one. The plan was to grow old together, but then Val was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and suddenly everything changed. Now Andy talks about the life they had together, how he copes with bittersweet reminders of Val, and why leaving a gift in his Will has helped him pay tribute to his determined and beautiful wife.

I was the luckiest of men to have met someone like her. We met in 1981 at a teaching conference. I saw her across the room and she was beautiful. The 25 yards it took to walk over to her was one of the bravest things I ever did.

At first she turned me down for a drink, but when I met her the next day in the breakfast queue I thought I’d ask her again. She had a lovely look on her face and said, "are you really asking me out?".

Life together

Val became an inspirational community head teacher. She believed in Henry Morris’ premise ‘education from the cradle to the grave’. She was very proud of her role, but God help anyone who called her a headmistress! She loved her work in education; the individual child always came first. Mostly we lived our lives for each other. There were a few significant friends and Val was an only child. Val believed in her family, education and our life together.

Eventually we retired together and decided we needed some kind of project. It was thanks to Val’s drive that we ended up building and running a successful 5* Gold B&B. I was front of house and she was the chef. We ran it for nearly 10 years and we loved every minute. It was only when we’d made the decision to try something different that Val became aware of a pain in her stomach.

All the ‘right’ things

She had never had anything wrong with her in her life. She went to the GP quickly and it was suggested that the pain could be many things – anything from a strain to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). After lots of scans they found some small gallstones and Val had an operation to remove her gall bladder. I can actually remember the doctor flippantly telling us, "don’t worry, it isn’t cancer".

On the last day of 2015 we went for what we thought was a check-up appointment to see how that operation had gone. That’s when we were told that Val had ovarian cancer.

She had the debulking operation and chemo. She used a cold cap for her treatment so she could keep her wonderful hair. It extended the chemo to about three hours a session but it was vital to her. I had such respect for her. The specialists were brilliant and got as much as they could. There was an element of hope - but then it came back again.

Part of the frustration came from knowing that Val had done all the right things. She visited her GP early but ignorance meant the signs weren’t picked up. It was only when she was diagnosed and started treatment that they did the CA125 blood test. I could never understand why they didn’t do that first – to rule out the worst. I still find that amazing. Val wouldn’t let me get angry. She would not let cancer define her.

Gone

Val had a positive outlook. She knew she was dying but she was determined to try every avenue.

Not long before her death, we travelled to London to talk to another specialist about getting Val on a clinical trial. Sadly, at that stage there was nothing more that we could do.

Val came home with the support of a live in carer. I wanted to talk to her about it, about how wonderful it was to have shared all we had, but she wouldn’t let me – for her, talking about it would have been like admitting it was the end.

I remember the night before she died, I suggested watching something on TV but she said she was feeling a bit tired. I didn’t know that she was dying at that moment. She died the following morning.

Legacy gift

I found out about Target Ovarian Cancer after Val’s death.

I knew immediately that I wanted to renew my Will and leave a gift. I wanted to do something proactive and for me it felt like a very positive thing to do. It made me think of Val. It was my way of honouring her. I like to think Val would have approved. If I’d told her she probably would have responded with something like, "I should bloody well hope so". I think she would have been delighted.

Before she died, Val and I talked a lot about ovarian cancer. We felt very strongly that women were dying and that things were moving too slowly. Val was a key financial contributor in our relationship, so it is important to me that my Will reflects what Val and I talked about.

Advertising campaigns for early awareness are valuable, but it doesn’t make a difference if there aren’t the tools or the knowledge to respond.

Grief

Val was a remarkable woman. She wouldn’t want to be remembered just as a woman who had cancer. She was beautiful, bright and stubborn – she always won our arguments – I was exceptionally lucky!

She was 69 years old when she died. We were supposed to grow old together. I was supposed to die first. I could see her in a thatched, country cottage with her cats; the white witch at one with nature. 

Time hasn’t really made things easier for me. Everything reminds me of Val: smells, sounds, sunshine, rain – all of it triggers memories. I flicked on to Dancing with Wolves last night on the television and I had to switch over. It was one of Val’s favourites.

When your partner dies it’s hard to remember who you were before. We were two individuals who became stronger together. When one of you dies the other person left is even less of an individual than when they started.

Still, I feel privileged to have shared Val’s story. If I stop talking about Val she will cease to exist – and I couldn’t bear that. Leaving a legacy gift means that Val’s memory stays alive. She can continue in some form and help other women. That’s such a wonderful thing.

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