“Christmas isn’t the same without Paul. The central cog of our family is not there anymore. He is missed at Christmas by me and our three children.”

The hard thing about Christmas now is not having anyone to share it with. It’s not the same without Paul. Before, Christmas was all about being together and being a family unit. Now, there’s always a gap. There’s a big bit of the jigsaw missing. The central cog of our family is not there anymore.

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Christmas 2020 was our last Christmas together as a family. Paul passed away from pancreatic cancer the following May, aged 51. Since then, Christmas has been hard, both emotionally and practically. We keep all the Christmas traditions, and all the things we did before are the same now. And we talk about Paul the whole day on Christmas Day. The kids tell me, “Dad would tell you not to stress”.

Our children Jack, George and Lily were 18, 15 and 11 when Paul passed away. On what turned out to be his last Christmas, we went to his brother’s house on Christmas Eve for a party. When we got home, Paul was very tired and went straight to bed, which wasn’t like him.

Paul was a 6’4” giant of a man. He was extremely fit and healthy and worked six, often seven days a week. He played football twice a week, went to his gym daily and regularly went out for a sprint on his bike. Paul was very practical and hugely family-orientated. He had a dry sense of humour. He was the one who created the fun in our family.

Having three kids and with both of us working full-time, our life was hectic. For several months before any other symptoms became apparent, and months before his diagnosis, Paul was saying how tired he was. He used to come home from work in the afternoon and have 20 minutes of sleep every day before heading off to collect the kids from school. We simply attributed his fatigue to our busy lifestyles, either always at work or being a taxi service for the kids, and we thought nothing more about it. He’d also started to feel bloated when eating and often said he couldn’t eat big meals like he used to. We just accepted this, thinking it was just ‘an age’ thing and a sign of his metabolism slowing down.

One day, he couldn’t get out of bed to go to work, and that wasn’t like him as he was never off sick. I said, “This isn’t right”. He was referred for a scan but continued to get more unwell while waiting for the appointment. Over the next few weeks, Paul deteriorated quickly. He was still pushing himself to go to work, but the stomach pain had increased, and his fatigue meant he was sleeping much more. He was already starting to eat less, losing weight, and had now begun to feel and be sick. I had to badger the GP to get him admitted to hospital. He was deteriorating in front of my eyes. The situation needed escalating quickly, but it was too little, too late. Paul had walked into the hospital when he was admitted ten days earlier but was discharged in a wheelchair less than two weeks later, barely able to walk or talk, to await the conclusion of the biopsy results and the proposed treatment plan. Seeing the change in him during this time was both shocking and heartbreaking; we all felt totally useless.

On 16th April 2021, only three weeks after our first trip to A&E, the consultant came into the room to talk to us, and with Paul’s file in her hand, she gave us the news we’d been silently dreading. He had pancreatic cancer, which had spread to his liver. It was a small cell type of cancer, like lung cancer, she said, and therefore it was very aggressive. The speed of advancement meant he was deteriorating quickly. The actual prognosis, when it came through, knocked everything out of the both of us.

Paul couldn’t do chemotherapy as it was too late. He didn’t have time to process things or do anything. The last few months were just a blur. Paul came home a completely different man from when he went into hospital. He carried on for longer than others might have, but in the end, he’d had enough and wanted to be at home. I admired his sheer determination – he wanted to do it his way.

Paul passed away on Saturday, 8th May, only three weeks after his diagnosis. It was said that perhaps his fitness was a factor, being so fit and strong, the symptoms remained unnoticed, and his body carried on for longer before we became concerned. His referral for the CT scan the GP had requested did not arrive until after he had passed away. The process and waiting time are just too long for this dreadful disease. The ‘what ifs’ are the things that eat you up. I get flashbacks of the things that happened, and the things I wish could have happened differently.

One of the hardest things about losing Paul is there is no one to put their arm around me and tell me it is going to be okay. Everything now is down to me, and it is so hard. We used to deal with everything as a team – that’s what we were. You have to carry on, you have no choice. This is not how we wanted it; it is not how Paul wanted it.

Our family is heartbroken and still learning to come to terms with life without him. My children have to negotiate teenage life without their Dad and best friend, and me, without my rock and soulmate. It’s just such a devastating, cruel and painful disease. The kids were his whole world. His family was always the no.1 thing – his priority.