A young Dollingstown woman who lost her dad to cancer has spoken movingly of his battle with the illness - and its devastating affect on her family - in a bid to help raise funds for Marie Curie.
Courtney Bittle and her mum Anne are taking part in the charity’s Walk Ten at Stormont on Friday, September 9, to enable the charity to help other families in the way they supported hers.
The 25-year-old’s dad Joe passed away in 2009, aged just 46. He was, said Courtney, “a lorry driver by day and a wonderful husband and dad by night”.
And Courtney, who is now a nurse, said the support of Marie Curie inspired her to go on to study for a nursing degree at university.
Joe was diagnosed with cancer of his bile duct, which was secondary on his liver, in September 2008. After discussions with consultants and his GP it was decided that surgery was an option if the cancer hadn’t progressed too much.
Said Courtney, “It was stage four cancer and was very aggressive. The doctors wanted dad to wait until after Christmas that year to have his surgery as they wanted him to be able to stay at home over Christmas as they thought there was a chance it could be his last Christmas.
“It did turn out to be his last. I still remember that Christmas Day. My dad sat on his knees in the middle of the living room floor and cried as he watched me and my younger brother Max open our presents. Christmas has never been the same for us.”
Joe underwent his scheduled surgery one Friday morning in January 2009. Said Courtney, “The consultant had told us that if he was able to operate on the liver he would do it there and then ... but if the cancer was too far progressed there would be nothing more they could do.
“I knew that if dad was in surgery for a long time that they would be going ahead with the procedure. Dad sent my mum a text message very quickly after he recovered to say he was ready to come home, and we knew at that moment he was terminal.
“That day was very hard . My mum went to collect my dad and I asked if I could be the one to tell my brother the devastating news as he and I are very close. I will never forget the look on his face, at the age of only 13, to be told your dad is going to die.
“I know everyone says the same but we really were such a close family and more like best friends as well as family. Dad took my little brother fishing most weekends and he took both of us to various days away to car shows and country fairs. We even had a family tradition of doing the grocery shopping every Friday night since we were children and me and Max looked forward to going with dad to spend some time with him.
“ He was always pranking people and making people laugh and that made us laugh and have fun too.”
From that point om on it was a matter of easing Joe’s pain and managing his symptoms. Chemotherapy had made him very ill and he would rather live out his last days without suffering.
He was given an estimate of six to eight months to live and managed to hold on for nine. “He was an extremely strong man and he fought hard to the very end,” said Courtney. “He didn’t fight for himself, I know he did it for us. He never complained of pain to us, never allowed himself to be down or let it stop him doing things as a family until the very end. He was a true inspiration for me.
“Without the help of Marie Curie my dad would not have been able to pass away peacefully in his own home. He did not want to die in hospital and we didn’t want him to be in hospital and us not be with him when he was nearing the end. Marie Curie were such a support and a nurse was able to come stay with my dad overnight which meant my mum could have a restful sleep and know that my dad was being looked after.
“It wasn’t just a nurse turning up, the Marie Curie nurses built a personal relationship with my Dad and talked to him one-to-one as a person and not just a terminally ill patient.”
Courtney, who is a nurse in Laganvale Care Home in Moira, regularly fundraises for the charity.
The 10k Marie Curie walk starts at 6.30pm. It finishes by twilight with entertainment and fireworks. Sign up at mariecurie.org.uk/walkten or call 028 9088 2060.