The funeral has now been and passed and what a turn out it was, with people travelling from all over the UK to pay their respects to Jenny. I will continue to post blogs when I can but I thought it fitting to post my eulogy (and my thank you speech from the wake) for those who couldn’t make the funeral.
Here I am, once again delivering a speech that shouldn’t be necessary, but which unfortunately became inevitable, and this time it is for my wife, Jenny. For some time now, this situation we find ourselves in today, had become a very real possibility, but at no point did myself or Jenny lose focus on the ultimate prize of survival. The worst has happened – that was 11 days ago – This is my eulogy to my wife, lover, business partner and best friend, Jenny – one of life’s amazing individuals.
The relationship Jenny and I had, was built on some very simple concepts; honesty, love, respect and friendship. Four ingredients that if combined in the correct quantity can easily lead to a lasting loving relationship. I know it is true because that is what happened in our case.
Up until 6 years ago cancer meant nothing more to me than a zodiac sign, and if I’m honest that didn’t mean too much either. Things changed overnight with my best friend Craig being diagnosed in 2006. You start to not only acquire knowledge on the subject, but also start to gain an insight into what cancer is all about. It simply takes over your life, in both positive and negative ways, whether you are a cancer patient or a “jock strap”. You start to assess the worth of things you thought were important, you address the issue of mortality and you also question reason. On the flip side you start to prioritise what is really important, realign ethics, values and opinions and reassess your standing in life.
In 2005, Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple, delivered a speech at Stanford University, 12 months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, in which he spoke about 3 subjects, one of which was death. Here is a short extract from that speech:-
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Jenny was 36 years old when she died and I was privileged to share the last 8½ of those with her, initially as her partner and latterly as her husband. From the moment we met, things clicked and I’m sure most of you who knew us well enough would agree that it really was a perfect match. We met on a pseudo “blind date” and things began to move quickly as it became clear that we had found something special in each other. That special something just seemed to get better and better as the years rolled on.
I’m only qualified to comment on the last 8½ years, but when I’ve reflected during the last few weeks we achieved so much in a relatively short space of time, some of which wasn’t that uncommon; such as buying a house, getting engaged, getting married, becoming parents, initially to Marjorie and further down the line to Mabel as well as being an Aunt & Uncle to Daisy & Jamie. However, there were things which didn’t quite follow the normal course of life for people of our age; we were instrumental in helping to raise awareness to save the cinema here in the village, we successfully negotiated and bought a business, we stayed in some of the finest hotels in the UK and ate in some of the best restaurants, we had the honour of becoming godparents – twice, and probably most significant of all, we took the fight to cancer – head on!
Jenny was first diagnosed in March 2008 which has meant we have spent nearly 50% of our 8 years together facing this disease and at each point we have listened to the advice given, and made decisions knowing they could prove to be either right or wrong – I’ve learnt over the years that all our decisions were the correct ones based on the information we had available at the time and for that reason I harbour no anger or regrets, just sadness that Jenny was in this position through no fault of her own.
For most of the 4 years she was battling the disease she managed to fend off each problem as it arose, through 10 operations, 2 chemotherapy cycles, a course of radiation and numerous hospital visits, with us coming very close to a clear CT scan only 12 months ago. However, things changed significantly 8 months ago when a CT scan revealed the disease had spread to her right ribs, bringing with it pain which was constant and unrelenting, coupled with loss of appetite and weight loss and a decision was made to wait 3 months and rescan in order to chart any disease progression. This second scan showed spread of the disease and our oncology team decided there was no further treatment available to Jenny that would help. It was suggested that we should concentrate on quality of life and that decision to not offer any further treatment started us on a journey that we had sometimes wondered if we would ever need to embark on, without ever really considering how it would pan out if it became reality.
This is the moment when you realise which “cancer camp” you are in. I believe cancer patients fall into one of two camps and it is in-built into you which camp you are in – I don’t think it’s a choice you make. You either accept what you’re being told, or decide to fight and find another way. Bearing in mind Jenny was 36 years old, it was a relatively “easy” choice for us – “quality of life versus no life”. The choice becomes a simple one when out of the two choices you have, one isn’t really a choice. It simply wasn’t acceptable to us – plain and simple – that was the point at which the German Clinic entered the ring.
I know many of you have followed my blog over the last 3 months which tells the story of our time in Germany, and I have received so many messages of encouragement and support. Our lives took a very different direction back in November when we made the decision to seek further treatment abroad – emotionally, physically and logistically! When we heard about other people’s diagnosis at the clinic and listened to their stories, almost without fail the fundamental processes they had been through were very similar to ours. Yes, the details were unique to the individual, but the general experiences were spookily similar. The cancer patients that find themselves in the same camp as Jenny start to display special qualities, which may have always been there, but in the hustle and bustle of today’s daily life get relegated down the priority list, as things that aren’t as important, take over. This, I suppose, is modern life. Cancer is a leveller – it can bring out the best in people and when it does amazing things can be achieved, both physically and mentally.
Following his diagnosis in 1996, and his subsequent treatment, Lance Armstrong wrote about “being one of the lucky ones”. This wasn’t because of him beating the disease, it was because it made him realise his true potential and brought out the qualities in him that made him a better person. He was a world-class cyclist before he was diagnosed, but his illness made him realise he hadn’t been giving 100%. He changed his attitude, approached life differently, and went on to win 7 successive Tour de France races between 1999 & 2005 – that puts him in a whole different league from any other professional cyclist to date. Cancer allowed him to realise his true potential and what is truly important in life – that’s why he (and most other cancer patients) are “the lucky ones”.
I have been living on the peripheral of the disease – not with it directly – but I believe I’m also one of the lucky ones in meeting, falling in love and then marrying Jenny. This disease doesn’t change things, it changes people! and in most cases, whether you are the patient or the “jock-strap”, and irrespective of the pain and suffering that inevitable goes with cancer, you become a better person.
The life Jenny and I shared, whilst relatively short, did pack a punch. We did so much together and anything we embarked on was done with commitment to each other and the task in hand. Her determination was a real force to be reckoned with and the last 4 years is a clear indication of that, especially over the last 6 months when things became increasingly difficult. Her spirit didn’t crack once and she fought bravely and courageously to the very end, which I can sum up by a famous quote from Lance Armstrong…
“Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.”
We did so much together and I have so many happy memories of my time with Jenny. We had as many great times prior to her diagnosis as we did post-diagnosis. The disease changed the day-to-day elements of our lives but the fun and passion never waned. I was never particularly known for being a romantic, but I do remember Jenny explaining to me what she considered the most romantic thing I had ever done for her was. I remember it well but didn’t consider it romantic at the time, and in some ways still don’t. It was September 2008 and we were returning from a break in Ireland with our great friends Steven & Diane and their daughter Erin. Jenny’s first operation had been earlier in the year and she had just finished her first course of chemotherapy. We were at a surprisingly quiet departure hall at Dublin airport and she needed a wheelchair as she was feeling the pace. She explained to me that the sight of me running across the concourse with a wheelchair for her was very romantic and was a clear display of true love. I’m not sure I understood where she was coming from at the time, but that showed me how simple things in life can make enormous differences to people, and materialistic gifts and presents can’t replace moments like that. Don’t get me wrong, Jenny had a passion for nice things – namely handbags and shoes (which had a detrimental effect on our bank balance), but deep down Jenny was a thinker with a real heart of gold. She was convinced that we had met as children at the Liverpool Garden Festival in 1984 – She recalls meeting a small blonde boy who looked like me, and whilst I did visit the festival as a child I don’t recall this incident. It is highly unlikely, but Jenny believed it to be true and maybe she was right – who knows that day may have been the very start of something special without either of us ever realising.
I have learnt so much from Jenny and the last 9 weeks have had a significant effect on me – I urge you all, when faced with small, insignificant things in life that, at first, appear to be major hurdles, to stop for a second and recall the image I’m about to present.
I’m going to take you back to a warm Sunday morning 18 months ago. It was the 4th July 2010 and I was in Birkenhead Park surrounded by 4500 women, all sporting various items of pink paraphernalia and about to take part in Race for Life. As great as that was, that isn’t the image I want to portray. I want you to picture entrant number 1806 who was about to rewrite my definition of courage, determination and sheer bloody mindedness. She was sporting a Livestrong T-shirt, a baseball cap and stood next to her was a black border collie named Marjorie. Nothing too special at this point, until I tell you what was around her neck. She had a small bag which contained a vacuum pump that was administering a 48-hour chemotherapy infusion and she was about to run a 5km race – I’ll let you decide who the lady was wearing number 1806. Remembering that image should help to put most things into perspective.
I wouldn’t be the man I am today if I hadn’t met Jenny and I’m proud to have been a major part of her life. She was a larger than life character, who was creative, witty and possessed an infectious personality – a small selection of reasons why I fell in love with her. I am indebted to her for choosing to spend her life with me and I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart.
She made an impression on most people she met, which I know will continue for years to come and I’m going to leave you with a quote from the American Songwriter Irving Berlin, which I think is fitting…
“The song is ended, but the melody lingers on…”
Thank You Speech
We are all in agreement that Jenny was an incredible person who brought so much to so many, but she and I couldn’t have managed in the way we have without the enormous support we have received from family, friends and unknowns over the last 4 years.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank some of those people. There are far too many to thank individually so I apologise if I miss some. Rest assured your support and contribution over the last weeks, months and years is greatly appreciated and valued, and every single one of you have at some point been part of an incredible journey.
Firstly, I’d like to thank all of Jenny’s medical teams at Arrowe Park, CCO, Liverpool Heart & Chest Hospital and the Royal, in particular her consultants, Mr. Anderson, Mr. Page, Dr. Swift and Dr. Smith and their various teams including Julie, Gail, Kathy and Anne-Marie. A special thanks to “Angel Gabrielle”, staff nurse Gail Ali at the Royal. Also the efforts of Dr. Richard Latten and his team at Marie Curie who played a major role in making Germany happen, together with the Macmillan nurses and the district nurses and all the staff at Woolton Medical Centre, especially Annie & Lesley. All of your efforts were monumental and forever appreciated.
I’d also like to thank Dr. Herzog and all his staff at the clinic in Germany for their efforts. They provided hope at every step of our journey at the clinic and are true angels on earth. Also the people we have met throughout this whole process, but in particular those we met in Germany including Ney & Sylvia, Cathy & Dick, Hilary & Arthur, John & Mary, Monica & Keiran and the Mackenzie Triplets.
I’d like to thank Porters for organising today and relieving us of a lot of stress and Richard and his team at St. Peters Church for the service and burial, and once again to the management and staff here at Brook Meadow.
Gemma & I met with a few of Jenny’s work colleague’s this week at United Utilities. It was great to meet them all and we were truly overwhelmed with the efforts they had put in over the last 3 months fundraising on Jenny’s behalf. UU backed Jenny right up until the end and the opportunity to return to work was always there and that provided Jenny with continual hope. We’d like to thank Steve, Kath, Liz, Charlie, Rob & Janice for their amazing support together with all their colleagues.
We’d like to thank everyone for their efforts fundraising for Jenny’s treatment, especially the bag packers for giving up some of their weekends and everyone involved in organising and participating in the “Keep The Faith” cup, plus all the individual fundraising efforts that people have undertaken.
Extended thanks go to all my staff at Formby Surveys, for continuing their hard work during difficult times, both economically and personally. Special thanks to Les and Carole for continuing to support us and provide valuable advice during difficult times, and of course Chris for stepping in when needed. I’m forever grateful for all your efforts.
Our close friends with whom we have shared some of our most memorable times together, including Dave & Sharon, Chris & Debs, Jo & Vinnie and Steven & Diane. We have a multitude of friends and each and every one of you has played a massive role in helping both Jenny & I including Vicky Halligan, Sue King, Jill Hamilton, Angie, Jody, Laura and a million others – I simply can’t name you all. I’d like to thank Charlotte & Harriet for making all of this happen in the first place and Niggy for referring Jenny back in 2008. I’d also like to thank everyone for attending today as I know some of you have travelled large distances.
Jenny has a large family with far too many people to thank individually but each and every one of you has provided a massive boost when needed, especially her cousins, both here on the Wirral and also north of the border. I’d like to express a special thanks to my parents Ann & Bill for their continued support throughout this journey, especially in relation to the dogs. I’d like to thank Jenny’s Dad Peter, her cousins Helen & Justine, my brother Glyn and his wife Georgina and of course Jenny’s mum Cathy, who has been amazing this week. My second to last thanks goes to a very special person in my life, Gemma who has been simply monumental throughout everything.
My final thanks are to my wife, Jenny, for providing me with the best years of my life and teaching me about the best things in life.