Gordon, Julie and Son V2

Julie Sutton

Julie and I had been married for 11 years, we had a gorgeous 7 year old son, and life seemed good. I had all the things people strive for these days, a well-paid job, a great house and a strong family. Sadly, things were about to change. Julie discovered a lump in her chest; we took her for investigations and discovered it was breast cancer. We kept positive, thinking all we had to do was get through surgery and some chemotherapy and try and get past this – unfortunately, during our first visit to have chemotherapy we were told that the cancer had spread and was incurable.

The prognosis given was heart-breaking, Julie was told that she may not live to see her son go to senior school. However, she was never going to accept such a bleak possibility, and she fought tooth and nail against serious diversity for the next seven years, along with many visits to the hospital and the Hospice, and with the support of my son and me she outlived her prognosis by four years.

Julie had always had a real passion for music, and became a dedicated member of a local musical theatre group, taking roles in many musicals over the years. Even when the cancer stopped her being able to perform on stage, she still held important roles behind the scenes, sometimes sourcing all the props for shows and even running the props table back stage during performances. She was deeply saddened when she eventually had to pull out of the big shows completely, but still got up and sang at as many concerts as she could. I will always cherish the memory of recently performing an evening of duets with Julie at Sherfield-on-Loddon, including one of our wedding songs.
Julie was never a person who shied away from a challenge; however the fight got tougher every day. We spent as much time visiting the hospital, Hospice or chemist as we spent at home. I recall one particularly snowy winter. We attempted to drive in to attend a scan (scans were very important to Julie – knowing as much information as she could helped her fight), unfortunately the car got stuck in snow halfway into the hospital. However, Julie refused to miss the appointment and we promptly began walking through the snow, leaving the car stuck. She stoically fought against tiredness, pain and deep snow to get to the hospital, with me often having to hold her up.

However, it wasn’t always bad – we had many lovely experiences during the course of the years. One of my favourite memories with Julie in the Hospice was on valentine’s day, just a few weeks before she passed away. We have a friend who bakes the most delicious cupcakes, and unbeknownst to either of us, Julie and I had both planned a surprise batch of cakes for the other. Obviously, our friend realised we had both ordered her cakes, but never let on. On the actual day she turned up at the hospice with both batches, and with the help of the Hospice staff managed to get me out of the room Julie was in long enough to pass on both sets of cupcakes without either of us realising. The Hospice staff found it all extremely amusing, and were brilliant at keeping the ruse going until Julie and I both presented each other with a batch of cakes. It was a lovely, fun day and is a great memory to keep.

During the final year things got particularly tough. After a particularly stressful and tiring time for Julie, one night she went to sleep and we simply couldn’t wake her up. After a weekend of monitoring, we managed to wake her up long enough to get her to the Hospice, but she returned to sleep once she was there – clearly beyond exhaustion, her body simply unable to recover enough to wake her up. After a few days of this, I moved into the room with her, and it was clear the staff were preparing me for the worst. I had some very long nights that week, but one night as I was asking her to return to me, she tapped my hand and I heard her mutter “I’m trying my hardest”. That small sign from her showed me how much she was still fighting for my son and me, and miraculously after a few more days she was up and about and was then able to return home.

The last week before she passed away, I came home one day to find her propped up on a stool in the kitchen, practically asleep as she chopped vegetables for dinner. She refused to stop, agreeing only to let me help her. She often insisted “I can’t do everything I used to for you both, but I’m going to do those things I am still able to, as best I can”. And that was Julie’s strongest message to all around her. She never let this stop her doing what she had to do. She worked hard to still be a wife, mother and friend even on the days when she was unable to walk around unaided. Julie’s deepest regret would be that she would be unable to watch her beautiful son grow up to be the wonderful man he is becoming – no doubt strengthening her resolve to fight for as long as she possibly could.

Even after her passing, Julie’s impact on everyone around her is still being felt. Her funeral was a wonderful, joyous celebration of her life, exactly as she wanted (long before she passed, she wrote out three pages of guidelines for her funeral, where to hold it, who to attend/talk for her, where to scatter her ashes – this made the whole process easier on me, and she was still looking after us even after she passed). Our musical society sang a number of her favourite songs; people were crammed into the church and overflowed out the door. Julie was one of the strongest, most loving, caring people I have ever known, and having known her most of my life – she has changed me for the better in so many ways. She was loved and respected by almost everyone she met.

Julie’s strength throughout her life has also changed my attitude towards mine. I am returning to university in order to learn the processes I require in the hope of starting up my own charity, with the help of the Hospice, initially to give respite to teenagers who are young carers or are fighting cancer themselves. My desire to do this is partially driven by watching my son grow up not knowing his mother without the spectre of cancer hanging over our heads, partially by the pain we felt throughout the fight and wanting to alleviate that pain for others if possible, and also partially from my interactions with the Hospice over the years and a desire to help others instilled by the dedication and care exhibited by the staff and volunteers. Julie’s memory, and the strength and endurance she showed over the years will hopefully stay with us in my future endeavours.