Colin and Julie had been together for around three years. Colin is from Glasgow, but met Julie in Manchester through their work, and that was it. Despite not having the easiest of times with Colin’s health, they knew they were soulmates and were determined to spend as much time together as they could.
Colin was diagnosed with throat cancer in April 2016, after suffering with a sore throat for a while. Following treatment, he was given the all clear but sadly the cancer returned on his lung and brain. In the summer of 2017, he was told he only had weeks to live. He and Julie decided they wanted to get married, and Colin began chemotherapy.
Here Julie shares their story and experience of St Ann’s.
“We had talked about getting married, but I didn’t realise that Colin had already bought my ring! We got engaged in the September at our special place in the West End of Glasgow, and got married in the November at Barony Castle in the Scottish Borders. It was incredible, we had so much help and support to make it such a special day. We had our honeymoon in the Lake District and the weather was beautiful – it was like it was meant to be.
After the wedding, we came back to Manchester, and it was a Macmillan nurse who referred us to St Ann’s. I have to admit that at first I felt like I’d failed Colin, and I was more than a little scared.
I, like most other people, thought that hospices are just places that people go to die, but I can see now that they are so much more than that. They are actually places full of people who help others make the most of the time they have left, and make them and their loved ones as happy and comfortable as possible, and you can’t really get better than that can you?
When Colin first came into St Ann’s, he was bed-ridden and fed up, but it quickly became like home. We were greeted very warmly and made so welcome and comfortable – I felt like we’d been scooped up and taken to their heart. All the staff had such a laugh with us and would bring Colin his favourites – they knew he loves his cheese and crackers and gin and tonic! They looked after me too and hand on heart, since being here, the minute we think of something we want or need, it’s done. It’s like the staff know before us what our needs are.
I’ve got two children, Liam and Lucy, and Lucy was very worried about visiting Colin here. She hates a hospital environment and was scared of what it would be like in the hospice. I’d brought our cockapoo, Bella, a few times to see Colin and lots of the staff knew her and made a huge fuss when she arrived. This actually made Lucy’s first visit much easier, as Bella was so excited when we arrived in the car park. It really helped, and Lucy was surprised at how lovely it is here.
Coming into the hospice removed a lot of the panic we were feeling. It made you feel calm, and there was no more ‘scanxiety.’ It’s great that family and friends could visit whenever they like, and that children and pets were also made so welcome. I stayed over quite often, and there was even Wi-Fi, which meant that when Colin is sleeping I could do some work on my laptop. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with Colin, and St Ann’s made that possible.
It’s all about having quality of life, and we didn’t let Colin’s illness spoil life – we squeezed out every drop! The St Ann’s team really helped us do that when we were invited as special guests to an event run by the cancer support centre, Maggies’s Manchester, where Rick Astley was performing. Colin has been a fan of Rick for years, and bought me his album, 50. When he was living in Glasgow before moving to Manchester and I was travelling a lot to see him, I’d listen to it in the car. We first listened to the song “Angels On My Side” at Lancaster services, and it became our song when Colin told me that I’m his angel and every line was written for us.
When we received the invitation to the event, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to make it happen, but during that week all the doctors and nurses, the physiotherapist, occupational therapist, social worker, fundraising team and volunteers all pulled together to make sure Colin was as fit and well as possible to enable him to go out. They even arranged the hire of a dinner suit for Colin to wear! We were driven to the event by a volunteer driver and accompanied by one of the doctors, who made sure Colin wasn’t in any pain, both of them giving up their Saturday evening for us. It was amazing.
Sometimes Colin got confused due to his illness, and he told the staff that he was going to Llandudno. The doctor didn’t bat an eyelid, she simply said that maybe Llandudno could be our goal, but in the meantime we could take smaller steps, maybe going to a local park first. The team were working on getting Colin ready to go out again, and it just brought a little bit of extra happiness.
Some people ask me if it’s hard for me, dealing with Colin’s illness. But you’ve got to think selflessly. If we hadn’t met, he’d have been going through this on his own. Someone once told Colin that they were sorry he was going through this. His reply was ‘don’t be sorry, I’ve met my soulmate and many people never do.’