Paul – Love & Loss (part 1)


Thus far I haven’t been able to blog specifically about Paul and our relationship, but today, 10 years on from the eve of his death, it seems a fitting occasion, so I’m giving it my best shot, though much abbreviated.

If you missed how we met you can find the story here:

I had two marriages behind me and he was into his second of what I thought initially was a happy marriage. I was enjoying my newfound freedom as I had been more or less tied to husband number one since I was a mere child of 14 and soon after our divorce I married husband number two, so I certainly wasn’t looking for a new relationship.

Following two encounters with cancer and radical surgery I embarked on a degree course which I found quite challenging – and one evening I was doing work for college at a friend’s house, as my parents’ home was being rewired and they were having central heating installed, so their house was in a complete mess. The phone rang and Barbara answered it and it was Paul for me (Mum had told him where I was and given him the number) and he asked if I would meet him for a drink.

‘I’ll bet your wife doesn’t know about this’, I scoffed.

‘She’s gone’, he said briefly and I responded as one might expect, but I was really busy and wanted to get on with my assignment.

‘But I have so much work to do’.

‘I thought you were my friend?’ I melted, as he obviously needed someone to talk to.

We met at an old coaching inn and visibly upset he filled me in on the detail and also about his first marriage and the reason behind that divorce. He was partially covering his mouth, clutching at his chin and fighting back tears. I reached out to touch his hand in a gesture of support.

‘How did you know I wanted you to do that?’ he asked and I was hooked!

His story is as long and convoluted as mine and too involved to tell in a blog, so here is the abridged version:

When we first met he was estranged from his own grown up children, but before the divorce many years earlier, he had been a devoted father. Since that marriage broke down it had become increasingly difficult to see the children as they were growing up, and he had little contact with them.  His second divorce proved just as difficult and protracted – and even then he was still paying maintenance to his first wife, so once again his assets were to be decimated. He was broken.

Apart from his own three children he had three stepchildren (also grown up by that time) and throughout both marriages he worked full time as a tutor (latterly commuting 100 miles daily). Any spare time was spent on the never ending DIY, as he would usually buy older properties, live in them whilst doing them up, then sell. The process was repeated and I think in total he had lived in 17 or 18 homes in his lifetime.

We became a couple. He wasn’t perfect and neither am I, but he was probably very close to the man of the dreams I had as a young girl – the man I never thought existed. I was happier than I had ever been – and he started to laugh again too. We sometimes fought, but were totally devoted to each other and my heart would skip a beat whenever I saw him after being away from him for a few days. My sons and their families loved him and he them. After the birth of his eldest son’s first child, her maternal grandfather urged his son-in-law to let Paul know – and he made contact. I then cajoled Paul into rebuilding a proper relationship with them and they have been very supportive of me too.

Paul with my grandson

It was awhile before I discovered what an exceptional artist he was, as I had never seen him paint. It was only when he had to leave his lovely big cottage and move to a two-up two-down on the wrong side of the tracks that I saw his portfolio and his unique talent. I bought him a small sketch book and he started drawing on our many drives out into the country. He loved landscape and worked fast and would be onto his third drawing when I hadn’t even finished my first! I encouraged him to start painting again and even sent off applications for him to submit to various exhibitions, but he refused point blank.

It was a particularly cruel blow when I became seriously ill again and we both thought I was going to die just a year into our relationship. Without Paul’s help and sheer determination I don’t think I would have survived. You can read more about it here, here, here and here.

I introduced Paul to Hong Kong where some of my family live. It inspired him – the hustle and bustle of ships in the very busy harbour jolted his dormant talent into action again and with the flat 13 floors up overlooking the West Lamma Channel, he dragged the dining table closer to the window so he had a better view and set about looking for wood from the building site below, on which to paint. The Chinese workmen were very bemused by the tall, skinny, bearded gweilo, stripping plywood off old doors and nicking off with it! He bought paint, paper and ink too and produced one painting after another. His passion for his work had returned! He started submitting his paintings and drawings to exhibitions and entering competitions – and was a regular winner, especially at London venues and one of the prizes was a one man show in Bloomsbury!

Hong Kong Central.jpg
Hong Kong Central
misty ships copy.jpg
Misty Ships
Pearl Of The Orient 2.jpg
Pearl of the Orient
The Golden Arches of Cheung Chau scan.jpg
The Golden Arches of Cheung Chau

My father became terminally ill with cancer and was confined to a wheelchair and as I had no siblings I felt I should do my best for my parents. I worked two days a week at a factory near Paul and he would take me to work on Monday, then drive me the 30 miles down to my parents where I would stay till Thursday when he would collect me and I would work again on Friday and then spend the weekend with him, so it was very much a part-time relationship.The house next door to Paul came up for sale and my father would have moved quite happily, but my mother just wouldn’t budge.

Dad died in year 2000 and I retired from my job in 2005, but was still commuting to spend three days with my mum who by then was suffering with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s, therefore two parts of the brain affected. She had Meals on Wheels coming daily and her neighbour, Jean, popping in several times a day to check on her when I wasn’t there. The situation was becoming quite stressful for everyone and Paul and I didn’t manage to live a normal life together. The house next door became for sale on two more occasions, but Mum flatly refused to move.

Finally Paul and I made a decision; throughout 2006 I scanned the Internet for property we might afford in Scotland and we visited Dumfries and Galloway several times to look for houses big enough for all three of us (perhaps just with a garage suitable for conversion to a granny flat) and intended to move somewhere near the artists’ town of Kirkcudbright. We reasoned Mum was so far into her dementia that she wouldn’t remember that she wasn’t ‘ever going to leave’ her house. It would mean that we could live as a proper couple  and so we would finally get married. 2007 was to be our year.

Harbour Kirkcudbright


Mesothelioma: Guest Blog – A story of love, survival, courage and tenacity.

Not long ago I was contacted by a young man from the USA who had read this blog and saw similarities in my cancer experience and that of his lovely wife. Against all odds and with his devotion, she is surviving too – and he wanted to spread the word by writing an article for my blog, which you will find below…

Guest Blog by Cameron Von St. James

What I Learned Caring for My Cancer-Stricken Wife


On November 21, 2005, my wife Heather and I saw our lives change forever when doctors diagnosed her with malignant pleural mesothelioma. I wasn’t ready for it, but I quickly become a caregiver for a cancer patient. Just over three months earlier, Heather had given birth to our only child, Lily. We had expected that this holiday season would be spent making Lily’s first Christmas special, but instead we had to shift our focus to fighting cancer.

When the doctor told us about mesothelioma and told us our options, we were overwhelmed. Our doctor told us that we could visit the area’s university hospital, a top-notch regional hospital that didn’t have a focused mesothelioma program, or a doctor in Boston, Dr. David Sugarbaker, who was a renowned mesothelioma specialist. Heather was still too shocked and terrified to even think about these options, but I immediately told the doctor that we would go to Boston. This was the beginning of my role as caregiver.

In the following months, our lives became chaotic. My wife and I had both worked full time before she was diagnosed. Now, Heather couldn’t work, and I switched to part time. Besides work, I set up travel arrangements, took my wife to doctor’s appointments, took care of Lily and traveled to Boston regularly. While fearing that cancer would take my wife, I was also overwhelmed at my huge new list of duties. I wondered if I would end up homeless and taking care of our daughter alone. More than once, I curled up in a ball on the floor and sobbed, wishing these problems would just disappear. Despite having these moments of weakness, I never let Heather see me this way.  I knew that the last thing she needed was to see my fears.

Friends, family and even strangers helped Heather and me with donations and emotional comfort. I’ll never forget all of their help, and I want to tell anyone diagnosed with cancer or caring for a cancer patient to take any help that is offered. There is no room for pride or stubbornness in a cancer battle, as I learned the hard way. Offers of help will prop you up and give you less to worry about.

Caring for a cancer patient is hard. It may be the most difficult thing you have ever experienced, and you can’t just quit. You can’t give yourself up to negative emotions, but you have to accept them during this time. You have to use all your resources to your advantage.  Above all else, never, ever allow yourself to give up hope.

After years, our lives have returned to normal. Heather survived her cancer thanks to months of mesothelioma treatments including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy under the care of Dr. Sugarbaker. She remains cancer free to this day.

This experience showed me how important persistence is and how precious time is. Two years after Heather was diagnosed, I returned to school to study information technology while working full time and caring for my wife and 2-year old daughter.

The experience of handling all this stress while caring for my wife as she fought cancer prepared me to return to school. After graduating with honors, I was selected to speak at my graduation, and told my fellow graduates that just a couple of years before, I wouldn’t ever have thought I’d be there in that moment. I told them what I’d learned through my family’s battle with cancer:  that within each of us is the strength to accomplish incredible, unbelievable things, if we just believe in ourselves and never give up hope.  Heather and Lily were in the audience to cheer me on, and that was the best reward I could have hoped for.

Cameron & Lily Cameron & Lily 2 Cameron Lily & Heather