My wife defied the odds for 12 years after her diagnosis
28th Sep 2020
Colin reflects on 56 years of happy marriage with his wife, Margaret. Throughout her journey with multiple myeloma, she showed great hope, courage and a determination to be active. From the day she was diagnosed to her final moments.
My wife, Margaret, and I were married for 56 years. She was born in 1938 in Northumberland. I was good friends with her brother, and my two sisters played with Margaret. That’s how we met.
I didn’t see her again until I moved to London when I was 28. She had also moved to the capital. I went to visit her, she invited me in for coffee and as we climbed the stairs to her flat, I knew she was the one for me.
Shortly after I asked her to marry me. She said that she couldn’t, as she had a hole in her heart, and that she wasn’t able to have children. I told her I didn’t care about that, I just wanted to marry her.
I encouraged her to see a consultant about her heart – after all, she was diagnosed at 14 years old. The consultant checked her over. There was a little murmur but nothing to worry about.
We shared the best news at Christmas…
We got engaged on Christmas Eve in 1963. We were married the following June and she gave birth to our first child Anna in 1965, followed by our son Michael in 1968.
We were a very active couple, loved long walks, canoeing, kayaking and climbing. We were quite fit and enjoyed being outdoors together. We had many happy years together.
It was around 2005 that Margaret started to slow down. We were out for a long walk and she couldn’t keep up with me. She felt very tired and was complaining that she was aching across her shoulders and back and had headaches.
A few years later in 2008, she went to see her GP, but they swept her concerns under the carpet.
It was like this for a while – she’d go to the GP, and they’d just prescribe her with some painkillers.
…and got the worst news at Christmas
It was on Christmas Eve in 2008 – exactly 45 years after we’d got engaged – that the doctors finally got to the bottom of it.
I remember Margaret lying in bed in complete agony. A doctor visited us at home. He wanted to call an ambulance, but I didn’t want her to have to spend Christmas Day in hospital. After Boxing Day, they ran some tests and confirmed my wife had multiple myeloma.
We moved in with our daughter Anna and her husband, so they could look after us both. We met with a consultant at the local hospital and Margaret started chemotherapy.
She was showing signs of improvement. She was able to sit up, eventually we went for short walks. She had a wheelchair, but she preferred to hang on to my arm for support.
We kept on walking together
Every day after she was diagnosed, Margaret and I went for a walk. We walked 100 yards to nearly a mile or more. She had a determination to keep active. Seeing nature helped keep her mind off the pain. I believe this determination of doing things and keeping active helped her live an extremely long life after her diagnosis.
She was still making improvements. However, the chemotherapy was starting to fail. She moved on to a different set of drugs and that worked well for a bit. The day before we went to the hospital to see the consultant, we went to the seaside.
I thought she was getting better. Unfortunately, we were losing our battle.
We changed chemotherapy drugs twice, as they both started well but soon lost its efficiency.
On both different sets of drugs it would work for a while but then stop working. During a hospital check-up, the consultant told us – we’re not controlling the disease, it’s getting worse. They then started palliative care. The pain was so bad and all they could do was increase her morphine.
Spending our final moments together
In the lead up to Margaret’s death, she collapsed twice. The district nurse wanted to move her downstairs. I didn’t understand why. I’ve been sleeping next to her for 56 years, I know her every movement. She recognises our bedroom and I was adamant that she would be more comfortable upstairs with me by her side. Nor did I want her in hospital, she would’ve gone down hill quicker.
We carried on our walks each day – rain, snow or blow – right up to the last six days of her life. Right up to the last moment, she knew who I was. She was reassured that I was there. When I sat next to her telling her that I loved her, I knew she was listening as she would squeeze my hand.
Margaret died in my arms in June 2020.
Remembering our life together
She’s still with me though, I think about her all the time. She’s a lovely lass. In the two weeks after her death I couldn’t talk about her, but I can now.
At her funeral our four grandsons lowered her wicket coffin basket into the ground. Our youngest grandson is only 13 and he was sobbing, just like his grandpa. Margaret would’ve been so proud of them.
Margaret always had hope, even when she was deteriorating, she never lost hope. She was a courageous woman.
I was privileged to marry her; I couldn’t have married anyone better.
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