Wife Eleanor’s fund-raising tribute to ‘perfect gent’ husband who died from a brain tumour just six weeks after suffering from symptoms, not long after the couple celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary and months after the birth of their son.
Sitting in her living room, surrounded by happy family photographs, widow Eleanor Ives is determined to be strong for herself and for her young son Jonathan.
Just over a year ago they lost husband, father, and “perfect gent” David to a brain tumour, only six weeks after he first began suffering from symptoms.
“We’d just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary, we’d spoken about our future plans and we were really excited and positive, little did I know that a few weeks later it would all change”.
Having had their lives turned upside down, Eleanor, 33, now feels strong enough to use her story to help raise funds into brain tumour research, and awareness of the condition.
She said: “I’m now in a place where I’m slowly piecing together some sort of life. I have the occasional happy day now.
“I want to use my story to do some kind of good and spread the message about how little funding brain tumour research gets.
“Me and other people like the Katy Holmes Trust are working towards hopefully nobody else having to suffer this loss.
“It’s just horrific. It’s young people in the prime of life.”
Eleanor and David first met in Cape Town when she was 16, having moved to South Africa from Berkshire as a child.
David, 35, a keen surfer and wakeboarder, was “a true South African”, and in 2003, they decided to travel the world together, taking in sites in Europe, Asia and Caribbean on various holidays, leading to David dubbing Eleanor “Tour Guide Barbie”.
With Eleanor’s family in the area, the couple soon put down roots in Penwortham, with David working locally in IT and Eleanor working at Gold Medal Travel on Preston Docks.
In October 2012, their son Jonathan was born.
Eleanor said: “He was going to be the world’s best daddy, he was just a big kid himself, and to have that taken away from my son is heartbreaking.”
Just six months later, in April 2013, David fell ill, at first starting as a sea sickness feeling, and he spent all of one weekend in bed.
Eleanor said: “I went to the pharmacy and they said to try some sea sickness tablets to see if it helped.
“He spent the whole weekend in bed, but on Monday went to work.
“That night he was carrying Jonathan up the drive and did a side step for no reason. I knew that wasn’t right then.
“The next morning his balance was all off. I insisted he go to the doctors, and he drove there himself.
“A little while later I got a phone call saying he had to go to the hospital, but the doctors wouldn’t allow him to drive himself.
“I got to the surgery and I’ll never forget him walking out like he was drunk, and his eyes flickering left, right, left, right.
“I was terrified, but I didn’t want to show it.”
The date, April 24, 2013, is inscribed on Eleanor’s memory. She added: “He went into hospital that day and never came back out.”
David’s illness progressed much quicker than expected.
Eleanor said: “The doctors didn’t know what it was until 12 days before David passed away.
“Brain tumour was always on the list, but it was never really expected because he was deteriorating too quickly.
“At first he was sent to the tropical diseases unit in Liverpool, as they thought he could have picked something up while we were travelling in Malaysia, then they thought it could be TB.
“They tried him on everything – they had him on antibiotics, steroids, all kinds of medication to try and make him improve, but it made him feel more ill.”
He eventually he ended up at the Walton Centre in Liverpool where a professor decided to carry out a brain biopsy, a dangerous procedure which involved drilling through the back of David’s skull and accessing his brain stem.
Unfortunately, the first biopsy sample wasn’t good enough, and it had to be attempted for a second time.
Eleanor said: “There were so many risks, but we had no option.”
He was eventually diagnosed with having a glioblastoma brain tumour, one of the worst types in the worst places – the brain stem.
His illness soon meant he was unable to swallow food or drink, and at one point he choked on his own saliva.
He had to be put into an induced coma, something Eleanor says was one of the worst days of her life.
She added: “By the time he was finally diagnosed, David was no longer able to communicate and there was no time to say goodbye to each other.”
Full of praise for the staff at the Walton Centre, and a professor she describes as “an incredible man”, Eleanor was able to travel backwards and forwards between Liverpool and Preston, to care for her baby son, who she was still breastfeeding.
She said: “It was such a hard time. I would spend eight hours a day with David in Liverpool, and come home, force myself to sleep and eat.
“But I was able to come home to be with Jonathan because I knew that David had someone with him 24 hours a day at hospital and was being watched like a hawk, for every movement and bleep.”
David died on May 29, 2013. Weeks later, Eleanor set up a fund-raising page for David in aid of the Brain Tumour Research charity, and has so far managed to raise more than £4,000.
There has only been one ‘official’ fund-raiser during that time, with the rest donated by individuals moved to celebrate David’s life.
The event on July 25 at Truffles Restaurant in Chorley was organised by Eleanor and her younger sister Louisa, with the help of owner and head chef James Ford.
Eleanor said: “We had a really lovely evening. Fifty people came, mainly family and friends, and we had a beautiful meal.
“We even had a salsa lesson and a disco afterwards and kicked our heels off.
“I said a few words – I finally felt strong enough. There was a lot of focus on me and a few months ago I would not have been strong enough to do that.”
She added: “It was fitting that we had the first fund-raiser there as we’ve had a lot of happy memories there. We’ve gone for birthdays and anniversaries.”
According to Brain Tumour Research, more children and adults under 40 die of a brain tumour than from any other cancer, but brain tumours receive just one per cent of the national spend on cancer research.
Sixteen thousand people each year in the UK are diagnosed with a brain tumour, and unlike most other cancers, incidences and deaths from brain tumours are increasing.
Liz Fussey of Brain Tumour Research, said: “Hearing that your husband has an incurable brain tumour and that there is nothing that can be done, and when you have a newly born baby, as Eleanor did, is absolutely beyond imagination.
“Each year, 16,000 families face the devastating news that a loved one – a parent, a child, a partner – has a brain tumour. Brain Tumour Research is dedicated to finding more effective treatments and ultimately a cure.
“We are so grateful to our loyal fund-raisers and supporters like Eleanor who help us raise much needed funds for a disease which kills more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer. To raise over £1,000 is amazing and will help fund valuable research. A big thank you to Eleanor, her family and friends.”