Sunday 31st August and Gary was up picking all the vegetables in the garden for dinner. You name it, he grew it, and he always left the rubbish part for me cleaning and peeling it all. Then we had his big Sunday fry up, he always insisted we ate together on a Sunday. He cooked and again I had to clean up while he walked the dog. Then he was back for a shave and a shower before going off to the Masons for his usual Sunday drink, you could set your clock by Gary and his routines.
He called me from the bathroom to show me a lump he'd found on the left side of his neck. That was our last Sunday morning as a normal family!
The next eight months were a varied mix of emotions, thoughts and feelings. Some days were a complete blur, and other days I feel like I remember every minute from when I opened my eyes till I closed them. It seemed like the longest darkest winter of our lives, and now I think all I did was watch Gary die for eight months. Biopsies, drugs, morphine, chemo, radio, it all becomes normal, like buying milk every day.
Gary's rules were, I went to work, he went to work, Lewis went to school. Cancer and all that came with it had to fit around us. He never did do what he was told and he certainly wasn't starting now.
Deep down from day one, Gary and I knew he wasn't going to survive this, even before the doctors told us. It was an unspoken agreement between us that we didn't mention dying. From the day I met Gary he always told me he would not live past 45 years old. He was 44. He would be 45 in February 2015. He was a jack the lad, he loved to have it all, a family, and his wild side. He worked hard and played harder.
We were never a romantic couple, it was like the war of the roses movie, we loved to hate each other and hated to love each other, but it worked for us. Life would be very boring if we didn't argue. I think sometimes we would start an argument on purpose if I'm honest. I remember sitting at home during one of his three day chemo sessions talking about how we missed having a good argument!
19th Dec - my birthday. Gary was on his second day of chemo, and insisted that him and Lewis went shopping to surprise me. So he went to Boots with Lewis to buy me my favourite perfume as he did every year, even though I told him not to worry about it. We all had our birthdays in Dec, Jan and Feb, and the agreement was that once he was better we would celebrate everything together. But no, Gary's determination to stay normal ended up with poor Lewis stood outside Boots with Gary being sick. Gary begged Lewis not to tell me but Lewis couldn't not tell me and that's when we knew things were changing and Gary realised he may have to accommodate this cancer! I knew it was going to be our last Christmas!
23rd Jan, Lewis's 14th birthday and we had another chemo session starting and an appointment with our consultant. She told us things were not working. They still wanted to go ahead with the radiotherapy but it wasn’t looking great. He could have six months at the most to live. That evening we had a family tea for Lewis, it was harder to act normal for him than it was hearing that Gary's treatment wasn't working, but Lewis did know something wasn't right. We managed to last it out and tell him the next day, but both Lewis and Gary were sure things would change. Lewis was convinced his dad would beat this. Gary was planning to go back to work and was going to be around for years. I wondered was Gary actually in the same room as me when we spoke to Amanda our consultant?
Radiotherapy was eventually abandoned. Gary was getting worse, weight loss was dramatic. A tumour had grown at the back of his throat, cancer had spread into his jaw bone, pain relief just wasn't working. Gary was really suffering, Lewis was really struggling and I was stuck in between trying to keep both of them going and keep normality going for as long as I could.
25 years together and this was the first time I let Gary have his own way and was doing as I was told. I had to do this the way Gary wanted to.
Monday 9th March - 1am. Gary woke me up. He was stood above me with his coat on and holding a bag “Liz, wake up, we need to go. I'm done. I've had enough, I need to go.”
On Tuesday, Caroline from Sobell House came to our bed in the Churchill, Sobell had been mentioned and had rung to speak to Gary but he refused to even talk about that stage. These 2 ladies were sitting talking to me and I didn’t know why? I actually couldn’t speak to them because I was crying and couldn’t get any words out. Gary was lying in between us sleeping and he lifted his head and said, “Take me wherever you want and do what you need to”. At that point, eight months of tears fell out of my eyes and I couldn't stop it, it wouldn’t stop! At 4pm I left Gary and sat in my car. I couldn't breathe, I wanted him to get up and fight, tell me he was going back to work and he was staying at home with us. I sat in my car for two hours before I could manage to drive home.
On Wed 11th March, Caroline took us down to look at Room 1 at Sobell House. Gary never went back to the hospital and spent the next five weeks at the Hospice. We practically lived there and Gary was pain free, he was smiling, he was ringing me with lists of stuff to bring to him, he was making Room 1 his home. Although it was wonderful to see a bit of my old Gary back, and not to see the pain in his face, I found myself getting jealous of Sobell House! They were doing what I couldn't do anymore. I had looked after Gary for 25 years and I had to let them take over. That was hard for me, but for Gary it was everything he needed.
Gary came home at weekends, but I could always sense his edginess when he was at home. He would go back on a Sunday earlier and earlier every weekend. He felt safe, secure and happy there. I would leave him and pull up outside his room, I could see him sitting there, settled and content, he couldn't see me but I’d drive home crying because I knew that was his home now and he needed something else other than me.
It didn't take Gary long to discover there was a bus stop outside his room, so instead of walking over to the main hospital, if he was feeling good he would jump on the bus and go to Headington with his syringe driver tucked in his coat pocket to get his newspaper, even stopping into The Standard for a half pint of cider. Even then he was determined to still be calling the shots and cancer still had to fit round him.
During those last five weeks of Gary's life we laughed, cried, ate, slept, got drunk, snored, sang, danced, played cards and even watched the Grand National in his room. It may sound strange, but although they will always be the saddest weeks of my life they were also the happiest. Doctors, cooks, nurses, cleaners, other patients all somehow turned into family.
Gary rang me on Friday 10th April at 9.30 am and said “You need to come now, I need you”. So my sister Barbrann, my brother in-law Vinny, Lewis, Gary's best friends, Gary Price and James Sutherland and I all went to the Hospice. We stayed in his room for five days until he died on the Tuesday 14th April at 7.20pm. I sent everyone home that afternoon to see their wives, family and kids. I told Gary it was just me and him left and it was ok to go, I’d be ok, and he did, he left me..........
No one will ever know or understand what went on in Room 1 for those last 5 days, in the end Sobell was home for all of us.