What do you do when you are told one of the people you love the most has incurable lung cancer? For Katie Pilbeam and her family, optimism was the only option so they rallied together to make the final few months of her dad’s life as happy as they could be.
“You never think this will happen to you or the people you love. In our case, Dad’s diagnosis came completely out of the blue.
“He had a dizzy spell in the garden. No cough, no sore throat, just a little lightheaded one day and began slurring his words. Mum called NHS 111 and he begrudgingly agreed to an appointment at the hospital ‘just in case’.
“Lung cancer didn’t cross our minds at this point. Why would it? Dad was the picture of health. Fitness was a big part of his life. He never drank, except for the occasional glass of bubbly at Christmas and he didn’t smoke.
“We feared it may have been a small stroke, but when the results came back and Dad was told to bring someone to the appointment, it was clear it wasn’t good news.
“With his typical wry humour, Dad asked his first of two questions: ‘How long do I have Doc?’ A blank look and a sympathetic shrug from the consultant said it all. ‘Is there a cure?’. It was all too late for a hopeful prognosis and treatment plan.
It was the stuff of nightmares but somehow, we had to stay positive. What other choice did we have?
“Despite being advised against it, Dad chose to give chemotherapy and radiotherapy a go and we all backed him. No matter how small the percentage point of success, he was doing it. He was not going anywhere without a fight.
“We had to wait until December 15th for his first round of chemo. Sadly, despite his pure determination, it didn’t go well. On Christmas Eve that year an ambulance was called, and Dad was taken to hospital, he could barely stand. And that’s where he stayed for the next three weeks, on a ward riddled with Covid which he inevitably caught too, another blow, an extra battle for Dad.
Despite it all, we tried to focus on the good. On Christmas Day my boyfriend proposed. After weeks of anxiety, that moment was pure happiness. We video-called Dad in hospital to share the news: ‘Dad we’re getting married!’ we shouted, and tears of joy flowed from both of us.
“We were determined to get Dad out of hospital as soon as we could. His prognosis at this point was three months so the plan was to spend as much time with him as possible. My sister Louisa helped my mum at home and my brother James, and I visited every week.
“My fiancé Steve and I watched the football with him, ordered his favourite takeout, which at that point was fish and chips with a kebab on the side! His steroid dosage meant his appetite was ravenous so he couldn’t get enough of all the delicious food he’d always dreamt of eating – guilt free! We made the best of it.
“Dad passed away on 20th July 2021 in his own home, surrounded by his family but not before achieving his dream. Dad loved reading – from tales of Roman heroes to the dramas of The House of Medici. He finally had time to finish his own epic, a story of love and honour set in Ancient Greece entitled The Heron Ring.
“Life without Dad is different. There’s no big character cracking all the jokes at the family table anymore. There’s nobody to do the DIY or cut the grass. I miss our chats the most. He could talk about anything; he was like a walking oracle!
“My brother gave me away at my wedding in March last year and did a fine job. But my dad’s absence was palpable. He would have been in his element that day, walking me down the aisle, chatting to all our guests, tormenting me with the most cringeworthy speech to make the crowds laugh and cheer.
“I could still feel him there that day with us though. Just before I walked down the aisle, I glanced at his picture, wrapped around my bouquet in a baby blue ribbon. ‘You got this’, he said.
“My mum misses him dearly. They met in a nightclub back in the 70s and hit it off immediately. He said he’d never met a girl who laughed quite like my mum, and he made her squeal with laughter daily, constantly teasing her, playing tricks, and dressing up – often with a bowl on his head!
Just before he died, Dad wrote her a little note: ’To my wife, Wendy, 43 years of happiness. I would have been happy to do another 43! I love you.’ That just about summed them up.
“It’s coming up to two years since we lost Dad, but he remains firmly in the centre of our hearts. I think it helps to talk about him often so that he’s still very much part of our lives.
“My husband Steve ran the London Marathon in his memory and we were there cheering him on, waving our pictures of Dad in the air and celebrating all that he was. It was very fitting because running was a passion that Dad and Steve shared.
“He was just full of energy. He loved getting up early in the morning to ‘seize the day’ he’d say. I try to use his drive in everything I do now. Our loved ones may be gone but they live through us, in all that we do, every day.
“And if you know anyone who enjoys a gripping tale of adventure and romance, you can find my dad’s book here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heron-Ring-Steven-Pilbeam/dp/B0912X66T2”