BBC Lifeline Appeal: John Neilson’s story

When John’s beloved wife Beverley passed away in 2021, shortly after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), John’s world fell apart. But with the support of Leukaemia Care’s helpline and counselling fund, John has been able to refocus his grief and get through each day, taking one step at a time. 73-year-old John shares his story as part of our BBC Lifeline appeal here…

“I first met Beverley in 1993 and I can honestly say that it was love at first sight.  On 29th April 1995, we got married and remained happily so for 26 precious years.

Early on in Beverley’s life and some years before we had met, Beverley had suffered from a brain tumour. It was successfully operated on, but left her with problems. During the operation her optic nerve was damaged, meaning she would be partially sighted for the rest of her life.  She also had to live with a shunt and was prescribed lifelong steroid medication as her body was unable to produce enough hormones following her surgery. 

Over the years that followed, both Beverley and myself had our fair share of health issues.  

Despite a bout of pneumonia and a few years later, a hospital admission for a lung problem, Beverley simply got on with life and never made a fuss about her difficulties. I suffered with heart problems and despite surgery to have a stent fitted following a heart attack, I was forced to retire early on the grounds of ill health. 

Nevertheless, the years that followed were very romantic as we accompanied one another to various visits to doctors, hospitals, various consultant appointments and tests.  Each of those days out would be followed by a treat of going out to lunch together or sharing a cream tea or a much loved favourite of Beverley’s: visiting garden centres. 

Every day was very special and it was such an enormous privilege sharing time together, holding hands and blowing kisses.  Life was idyllic and going well… until tragedy struck on the 22nd June 2021. 

That day, Beverley was unable to get out of bed.  She had a high temperature and ended up being taken to hospital by ambulance.  She was admitted with a suspected urine infection, but within a few days, she was diagnosed with AML. We were told the disease had been caught early and Beverley was transferred to a hospital in London for treatment. 

At no time did I consider that Beverley would never again return home. I travelled up and down to London visiting her as much as I could.  There were times when I should not have made the journey, as I was not well myself.  I had to endure a catheter for 15 months and delayed having a prostate operation so that I could be around for Beverley. 

Sadly, just 12 weeks after her diagnosis, on 14th September 2021, Beverley passed away. The shock of it knocked me out and I was rushed off to A&E for five hours. My oldest friend Philip (who I had known for over 40 years) kindly came to the hospital and took me home to help support me.  Philip was also the Executor of Beverley’s will, but sadly Philip passed away himself without warning, not long after Beverley’s funeral. 

The grief of losing Beverley and my best friend in such a short space of time was overwhelming.  I had never expected to find myself alone and could not face starting life all over again without Beverley by my side. With no family to support me, it was an enormous struggle to just get through each day. 

Just six weeks later, I had to accept defeat and undergo major surgery and it was another six months before I was anywhere near fit enough to venture out into the world again. 

I was, however, very fortunate to have the support and wisdom of Leukaemia Care, which not only helped me to keep my sanity, but also supported me in so many other ways. The helpline was an enormous comfort and offered me an emotional crutch when I was at my lowest. The charity’s bereavement support groups were also a great help, not to mention the Counselling Fund which enabled me to have six sessions of counselling with a local therapist in my area. 

I’m not sure I would have been able to get through this devastating time without the care and counselling I received. Now, two years on since Beverley’s passing, life is not the same, but it is different.  I feel that I can now refocus my grief and can get through each day, taking one step at a time.   

With the help of a local solicitor, I have managed to put my affairs in order and have written my will.  I now find myself working with other bereaved people and have been involved in setting up a local group for widows and widowers, enabling those in the same situation as myself to share their experiences of loss, offer mutual support and talk openly within a safe space environment.

It is very strange what paths can open up for us following adversity, but helping others also helps me cope better with my own loneliness. 

Of course, I still miss Beverley every day, but I am so grateful for the help I have received from Leukaemia Care. Without it, I would be further down a very black hole. Two years on from losing Beverley, I’m taking one day at a time, but at least I can now hold a conversation without welling up…”

BBC Lifeline Appeal

Watch and donate to the BBC Lifeline Appeal to help ensure people like John get the support they need from Leukaemia Care during their most difficult times.

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Support services

If you or a loved one needs advice or support regarding your diagnosis, please get in touch. You can call our free helpline on 08088 010 444 and speak to one of our nurses. Alternatively, you can send a message to our team via WhatsApp on 07500 068 065 (services available Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm).

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