I met John in 1963, aged 16. I’d gone blackcurrant picking with my friend Wendy. Suddenly, blackcurrants were hitting us on the head. I turned round and saw this boy wearing a leather jacket, with bleach blonde hair. I don’t know why, but I said to Wendy, ‘I’m going to marry him’. John was a brick layer and a cheeky chappy – always chatting to everyone he met. We kept meeting up, going to the pictures in Yeovil every weekend. We married after 18 months and were together for 57 years.
Jan & John in the 60's
Three years ago, John started feeling unwell with back pain and breathing problems. In A&E, they told him he had pneumonia, and fluid building-up in his lungs. That was the start of the nightmare.
John was admitted to hospital on Christmas Eve, which broke my heart. He loved Christmas and we just wanted him home. When he came out, he looked grey, and I couldn’t believe how quickly he’d gone downhill. Not long after, the doctor said: ‘I’m really sorry John, you’ve got cancer’. They said he had 6-12 months left, and we were absolutely devastated.
We went to St Margaret’s Hospice in Yeovil. The staff were amazing, talking to us about John’s illness and the care they could provide. When they asked if he’d want to come to the hospice, he said, ‘if you don’t mind, I’d like to stay at home if Jan can manage’. And in a proper Somerset way, I said ‘you ain’t going nowhere’, because I wanted to look after him.
St Margaret’s sorted out so many things so I could care for John at home. They helped with equipment, like a walking frame and wheelchair. The hospice doctor and nurses visited us to help with John’s pain and medication and I’d ring the 24/7 adviceline whenever I needed. This support meant everything to us and made it so much easier.
Jan & John on holiday together
I wasn’t sleeping well, and John was wandering around at night, but that’s when we had our best moments together. He’d be sat in the lounge at 1.30am, just staring. I’d say, ‘hot chocolate with milk?’ and he’d reply, ‘oh Jan, that would be lovely’. Even now, two years on, I still have hot chocolate every night. If I don’t, I just don’t feel right.
Sandy, one of the nurses, helped me so much during that time. She got us a hospital bed to put by the window so John could see the birds. For the last three weeks, it was like our house had been turned into Yeovil hospice. John wanted to spend his final weeks at home with his family, and although it took its toll on me, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
After John died, Sandy visited me and brought some lovely cake. The small personal things like that made all the difference. When you’re told that someone you love has cancer, you feel like you’re floating around, you can’t get your head together. But St Margaret’s really helped put us back together. It’s like they put their arms around you and wrap you up in a blanket.
Jan supported St Margaret's Light Up A Life event last year
Last year I donated to Light Up A Life with St Margaret’s, and it was lovely to be able to do that. I feel like it’s giving a tiny gift back to help other people going through what we went through. It’s also a nice way to remember John, even though I feel like he’s always here with me.