'My wife died weeks after cancer diagnosis - I'm facing Christmas alone'

Paul met Brenda at an office Christmas party in 1991 and is preparing to spend his first without her since they met.

Scot who lost wife of 30 years weeks after cancer diagnosis facing first Christmas alone

A man who lost his wife of 30 years to cancer is bracing himself for his first festive season without her since they met.

Brenda Shepherd from Bute died at the Beatson in July aged 67 after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in April 2022.

Only two weeks earlier, she officially reopened the facility’s Wellbeing Centre in Glasgow and was interviewed on STV News which, for many of her friends and family, were their last memories of her.

Paul Shepherd first met Brenda at an office Christmas party in 1991, so the festive period always had a special place in their hearts.

He said: “This year, Christmas will be very different without Brenda. But I know I’ve got the support of family, friends and the Beatson and we’ll continue to make memories as we always did at Christmas.

“Christmas was always an important time for Brenda and I – we met at a Christmas party so Christmas was always about traditions.

Paul and Brenda Shepherd were married for 30 years

“We would usually go out or have a special meal indoors and we would put Christmas jumpers on when we did it for a bit of fun.

“Because we didn’t have children we tended to have Christmas on our own, but then on Boxing Day we would go over to see my family and then we would see Brenda’s family at New Year.”

Brenda, a civil servant for 42 years, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and underwent a mastectomy.

But in April, a blood test for a prescription renewal revealed an abnormally low blood count and her GP called her in for further examination.

On May 21, she developed an infection and was taken to hospital. Further tests were carried out and she was given the heartbreaking news that she had acute myeloid leukaemia.

Paul said: “She had no symptoms, she was feeling fine. In fact, we were actually on holiday when some of it started and she wasn’t up or down, she walked round my local golf course with me the week she was admitted to the Beatson.”

Brenda was to undergo multiple rounds of chemotherapy but after the first session on June 13, she began to develop infections. Sadly Paul was unable to visit her ward as it had closed for two weeks due to Covid.

On July 4, he received a call from doctors telling him his wife’s health had begun to deteriorate and he travelled to the Beatson.

Brenda passed away peacefully in her sleep in the early hours of the morning on July 6.

Paul praised the hard work the Beatson do for patients and families and said they have been a “massive support” for him in the wake of Brenda’s death.

Brenda donated to the Beatson every month after her brother died from cancer in 2012 and Paul is continuing this in her memory.

Brenda kept a sunny outlook as her health deteriorated

He has visited the Wellbeing Centre twice since Brenda passed away to help him comes to terms with the loss of Brenda.

“I can get the sense of comfort from being there,” he said. “I know that when Brenda saw it she was really keen for us to both access it, had it been open because the view across the city is fantastic.

“I think it’s an incredible place, and I can see the escape people can get from the ward. Even on the wards they do amazing.

“Cancer and chemo is such a difficult thing, so being able to build up that rapport with patients whilst remaining professional is absolutely incredible.”

Brenda’s laughter and beaming smile will be sorely missed round the table this Christmas – but Paul said he owes it to her to stay strong and celebrate her life.

He said: “What you see now in me is Brenda. Brenda took me and moulded me. Any flaws that are still there, they’re me and any good things they’re Brenda.

“I’m surviving just now, that’s the phase I’m at just now, because she would want me to – and she would tell me to. I’m dain as I’m telt.”

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