“I’ll never forget how they looked after my dad…with great care, kindness and dignity”

Ruth Fawcett is swimming 5k with her husband and daughters at this year’s Swimathon in memory of her father, James, who died from a brain tumour. It’s Ruth’s tribute to her father and her way of giving back to Marie Curie who helped him through his final weeks.

Ruth, the youngest of three daughters, remembers fondly her father’s love of his caravan and his boats, and how they’d go fishing and water skiing on weekends and holidays. He was a devoted father and grandfather, and great fun to be with.

“Dad was a great family man. He loved singing and playing the keyboard and having a Bacardi and Diet Coke on weekends. Without anyone asking, he also did all the practical stuff at home, like changing the light bulbs, washing the cars or cutting the grass.” 

Pride and joy: Ruth with her dad James in 1975.

Unexpected illness

James had always been healthy and active. At 67, he was still working, out of choice, as a salesman for a home furnishing business.

It took everyone in the family by surprise when James came home from work, staggered up the front steps of his home, and collapsed. He was admitted to hospital, where they diagnosed that he had suffered a stroke.

James went home to recuperate and enjoyed being off work, going out with his wife Grace to the shops and for short walks, and had plenty of visits with his daughters.

Terminal diagnosis

It was less than three months later when Ruth got a phone call from her mum who was concerned about James’ health again. Ruth stayed the night with them to keep an eye on him.

“In the middle of the night, I heard a loud thud coming from the bathroom and realised Dad had fallen. I had to force open the door, lift him up off the floor and carry him back to his room. It was really upsetting to see my strong, happy Dad so frail and fragile. I knew then something was seriously wrong.”

The next day, James was taken to hospital. A neurosurgeon conducted a scan and x-rays, and found a tumour the size of an apple on James’ brain. That same night, which was James’ 68th birthday, he was rushed into surgery.

Ruth was then told what she had feared most: that her father’s cancer was fast-growing and aggressive, and he would have less than six months to live.

“I can’t even describe in words how I felt. It was awful and having to tell my sisters and mum was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It was devastating news.” 

Out in the sea: Ruth's dad James loved boats and fishing

Care and compassion at difficult times

After the surgery, James’ health deteriorated. That was when he was referred to the Marie Curie Hospice, Belfast, where he spent his last weeks of life. Ruth remembers not just the wonderful care her father was given at the hospice, but also the emotional support that was offered to the whole family.

“I’ll never forget how they looked after my dad. The Marie Curie hospice staff were angels on earth, treating Dad with the great care, kindness and dignity he deserved.

“We were always greeted with a friendly face and smile. They took away all of the burden and stress, allowing us to just enjoy the time we had left with Dad in a loving, happy environment.”

A bittersweet moment

James died peacefully at the hospice in May 2000 with his family by his side. Just before he died, Ruth had told him the happy news he had been waiting to hear: that she and her husband were expecting their first baby.

“The first person I wanted to tell was Dad. By then, he had completely lost his speech but when I told him, ‘You’re going to be a granddad again at Christmas’ Dad looked into my eyes and squeezed my hand tight. I knew he was so happy for me. Sadly he never got to meet my baby.”

Grace was born in December 2000, followed by her sister, Victoria, three years later.

“I make sure the girls know all about their grandfather. I show them photos of Dad and tell them stories from my childhood. They’re such bright, beautiful girls and I know Dad would be so proud of them.” 

Happy family: Ruth celebrating her mum's 60th birthday with her dad and sisters Beryl and Pamela

A tribute to Dad and Granddad

In honour of her father, Ruth and her family took part in their first Swimathon in 2015, swimming 15k in total and raising an amazing £930 for Marie Curie. And this year, they’re taking on the Swimathon challenge again.

“Dad was always very generous. If someone was in need, Dad was always the first one to step up. So it feels like the right thing to do, to support the charity that has done so much for me and my family.

“We can never repay our debt of gratitude to Marie Curie, but we can donate to help them help another family like mine.”

If you’re inspired by Ruth’s story, sign up now for Swimathon 2017 and swim 1.5k, 2.5k or 5k, as a team or individual, at a pool near you!