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Barry’s wife, Iris, died at the start of 2020. He tells us about their relationship, her treatment for secondary breast cancer and the amazing way he’s raising money in her memory.
Photo credit Sally Ryde
I had known Iris over 30 years, but we were like ships in the night. I would leave our town and she’d move back, then I’d move back but Iris would have left.
When we finally started seeing one another in March 2010, we spoke about how we’d often wanted to be together in the past, but one or both of us had always been with someone else, or we’d moved away. We got engaged in December that same year.
In November 2015, Iris was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. She said she’d understand if I didn’t want to go ahead with the wedding, but I said, ‘I want to marry you even more!’
The cancer spread into her right lung first. She also had some hotspots on her spine, but doctors believed the drug denosumab could control that. She then developed some pain on her ribs, and we found that the cancer had spread there, too, as well as to her liver.
We had a real scare earlier on when the cancer started pressing against her spinal cord. A nurse insisted someone bring her into hospital immediately.
When one of our neighbours was able to drive her in, they got her to lie completely flat on the hospital bed. She wasn’t even meant to bend her legs.
I had to get someone to relieve me from work so I could come and be with her – which is not so easy when you work as a coach driver – but eventually I was able to make it. She had radiotherapy on her spine, and that seemed to work.
Later on, the vision in her left eye became blurry. Iris mentioned this to the consultant, and she ordered a full scan. That was just before Christmas 2019, and we found out it had spread to her brain.
We decided we weren’t going to have any treatment until after the holidays so that we could have as good a Christmas as possible. Around that time, I took Iris’ oldest son, Ashley, out for a drink and told him that the next year would have to be one of memories.
Sadly, we didn’t get much of the year. But I’ve got some great memories of the time I had with her.
If you speak to any of our friends, they’ll still say now that they miss her. Our neighbour told me that Iris was the most real person she’d ever met. She didn’t ever pretend; she didn’t put airs and graces on. But she was so selfless. She was just Iris.
She wasn’t materialistic in the slightest, either. Whenever I took her out, I would read her the menu so she couldn’t see the prices – otherwise I knew she’d just go for the cheapest thing. When we got her engagement ring, I told the shop assistant there was no budget, because I wanted Iris to pick what she wanted. Whether it cost £10,000 or £10, I wanted her to choose something that made her happy.
Someone told me that what would happen is that I'd try to remember things and wouldn’t be able to. Then, after a while, all those memories would start coming back. All the sad days would slowly drift away, and they’d be replaced by happy ones.
I would say that I'm seeing that transition now. I'm not there, by a long way, but I can see it.
Some days I can sit and talk about Iris and be absolutely fine; other days I'm a mess. Sometimes small things catch me out. It’s still very new.
We were very lucky in that we were able to have Iris’ funeral just before all the COVID-19 restrictions came into place in 2020. While we were there, I had so many people come up to me and tell me that they’d never seen Iris as happy as she was when we were together. But as far as I was concerned, I didn’t do anything special. All I did was love her.
Right now, the thought of holding another girl’s hand in a romantic sense scares me, and as long as I feel that way, I know I'm not ready for anything. I think I just want friendship and companionship, and to speak to someone who understands what I'm going through.
Before she was very unwell, Iris and I wanted to raise money for charity, so we hosted a shave. I grew out my hair for months, and then cut it all off in front of our friends.
We had 75 people attending, and over 30 companies gave us prizes for the raffle we hosted. Dyson gave us a brand new vacuum cleaner, a local hotel gave us a night for two, and Swindon football club gave us tickets. The raffle alone took £750, and we got just over £3,000 overall.
It was so much fun, and we really wanted to do something else after that. Unfortunately, we never got around to it because we had so many other things going on.
Later on, I saw a man on TV doing a ‘wing walk’, and I think I’d previously mentioned doing something like that to Iris. However, when I checked on their website I saw that you needed to be under 13 stone to do it. At my heaviest, I was 22.5 stone.
I lost the weight bit by bit, setting myself little goals. When I finally got below 13 stone, I brought the idea to my boss, and he agreed to sponsor me.
I’ll be doing my own wing walk on 29 October, and I’ve set myself a target of raising £7,000: £3,500 for Second Hope, and £3,500 for Wiltshire Air Ambulance, because those charities are both really important to Iris and me.
It’s not just about the money, either; it’s about awareness. And I know that if Iris could get one person to positively alter something in their life as a result of us sharing this story, she’d be over the moon.
If you want to raise money to support a loved one or in memory of somebody special, there are plenty of ways you can do it.