Most of you are aware that it has now been a year since Gaz left us. Time gives little consolation as the weeks and months roll on, but we must change and adapt to a new norm, enabling us to carry on with life as Gareth would want us to do. There are bad days but there are good days. One of the good days was the Rugby World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. Although Gareth wasn't sat next to myself and Dad during the game as he has been previously at home and at various Rugby games including with me at the 2016 Premiership Final at Twickenham, he was without doubt there in spirit and within our thoughts. So too at the World Cup final I could hear the quite audible shouts of Gareth bemoaning the England scrum and weakness at the breakdown- particularly the moment he describes Jonny May as a "one-dimensional player" as his speed counts for nothing against the solid Springbok defence. No doubt the result would have been quite different had Eddie Jones conceded to some of Gareth's earlier commentary or had Billy Vunipola remembered the discussion he had with Gareth in the summer of 2017 when he reviewed Saracens at their St Albans training ground.
Gareth was very pleased I recorded his performance in this bicep competition with Billy, and he would be overjoyed that this image has made it on the blog- you're welcome Gaz.
All of you may have spent time over the last year and during this anniversary remembering Gareth in your own ways- many of you have sent messages of support to our family which has been deeply touching, particularly in hearing that so many of you are thinking of Gareth and the family at this hard time for us all.
We have continued Gareth's fundraising legacy with many of you contributing by taking part in various events whilst donating generously- we are so very grateful for your continued support. Thank you.
Many of you also took part in last May's Cookridge Community Run around Golden Acre Park which raised nearly £2,500 for Cancer Research UK and brought the community together for a fantastic day in which over 350 ran the 10km trail.
The run is back on Sunday 17th May 2020- and we would like to invite you to come and run, support and fundraise in support of Cancer Research UK, and to continue Gareth's fundraising legacy with us. Please put the date in your diary.
You can enter the run here-
And you can set up your own Cancer Research UK fundraising page to directly support the run here-
Or you can fundraise directly through Chemotionally Unstable or your own pages- https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chemotionally-unstable
All funds go to Cancer Research UK and specifically Sarcoma research. Myself and our Mum were invited for an open day at the Oglesby Cancer Research Building in Manchester, next to Christies Hospital in November. We were shown first hand the research being done at their world leading cancer research facility- it was honestly mind-blowing, their researchers and clinical staff were quite extraordinary. Their research has contributed to 50% of people diagnosed with cancer in the UK surviving for 10 years or more with diagnoses constantly improving. Your fundraising and support is helping to directly improve cancer treatment.
Gareth's story was again recently featured in the Yorkshire Evening Post- you can read and hopefully download the article in jpg below.
Gaz would be honoured to have his face featured in the same vertical plane and on the same front page as the great Marcelo Bielsa- the man we all know will take Leeds up this season!-
One final note from me- I recently invited Gareth's friends to give a home to some of his many books- a great proportion of which are related to his time at uni in Cardiff and London meaning most do not have the requisite number of pictures in them to qualify as suitable reading for myself, and so if anyone would like to take a selection of his books that would interest you or have particular meaning please let me know, we have a list of the books and would love to post the books out to you- email@example.com
As was common in Gareth's blog posts he would share, with wit and humour in abundance, his feelings, worries and words of advice. We want to continue this by sharing our own feelings in the hope it might help others. Please get in touch if you would like to add any words in the future and share thoughts of your own and memories of Gareth- they would be most welcome.
A Father’s story
On 29 October 2019, myself, April, Rhys and Florence – Gareth’s faithful golden Labrador – trekked up Slei Ghyll in the Yorkshire Dales to spread his ashes amongst the Autumnal heather, a walk as a family we had taken many times. It was a most beautiful day and as we stood in the milky sunshine it was so hard to believe that Gareth was gone, that he had been taken from us just over a year ago and in doing so left a gaping hole in all our lives.
For me it feels that there is just a half of me left on this earth – half a heart and half a soul. Some days are better than others, some are busy, some are happy, some are also bad, and some are, well, shit – as Gareth aptly put it in his celebration video!
Although we knew for nearly two years that we would lose him to cancer, nothing can ever prepare you for losing your sweet, dear, little boy – baby Ga as we used to call him!
I suppose the first few weeks and months were a bit of a blur. There was even some element of relief that he was at peace, out of pain and suffering, then there was a family cremation and the most wonderful celebration of his life at Sand Moor Golf Club in November, with an outpouring of emotion from family and friends that just showed us all what an amazing person he was and that he touched the lives of so many and would be so sorely missed by us all – then, a few months later realisation hit me.
After the London Marathon in March, run in his memory by his brother, Rhys, cousin Will and best friend Rich, it hit home - he was never coming home. I would never see or hear from him again – we would never go to Twickenham, Headingley, the Ryder Cup or Wimbledon or watch some obscure sport he was fascinated with in that week!
The bad days got worse, the shit days multiplied and were shittier than ever. Everyday tasks became a chore, like wading through treacle and then there were panic attacks – I don’t do anxiety, I don’t do out of control but here I was with a racing heart, out of breath with sweaty palms in floods of tears – even on the golf course (sorry guys you know who you are, and thanks)!!
Get through each day, I would say to myself, stay calm control your breathing – sometimes it would work and other times it was too strong to fight or resist, it almost felt like a strange form of penitence; I will not forget, I will carry this burden for you, Ga.
But that’s not what he would have wanted and a year on life does have a ‘new normal’, it can never be the old life, the old times, but you can learn to ride the waves and cope to a certain extent. The happy memories are now starting to take the place of the anxiety and pain, photos of him lift the gloom and I remember what I had (what we all had) and not so much what we lost.
Don’t get me wrong, the loss is still painful and I don’t believe that time can ever heal this wound, but the mind is a wonderful thing and can, and is, creating a kind of scar tissue to lessen the hurt - but that underlying pain will only be completely eradicated at the end of my own life.
He was larger than life, he had a presence and still does. He crammed so much into his short life and for 27 years his light burned brightly. He was warm, kind and far too intelligent but above all he had compassion and time for others – the best way to sum up Gareth is by what other people think about him aptly epitomised in this response to his death on his Facebook page:
"My daughters and I met Gareth on a train whilst traveling through Italy last year. It was only a two-hour train ride but that was enough to feel the positive energy he radiated. We talked about travel and food and he joked with my kids, asking them questions about their lives and genuinely listened to their answers. To this day, my children often talk about him and say he was the most inspiring person we met on that trip.
What would he be doing now? What would he be doing if this cruel disease hadn’t cut short his aspirations, would he be in Nepal leading a company of Ghurkhas -Captain Dunn - or would he be in the Foreign Office in some far flung land or perhaps preparing for the Paralympics next year in Tokyo, who knows."
I do miss him so much; I miss that we would often agree to disagree and would give anything to have him back for another day, although I am sure he would have a lot to say about England’s performance in the World Cup Final, Brexit and the General Election.
Perhaps his journeys have continued or perhaps he is at rest, but I do hope that he is at peace and that maybe one day, in another life we can catch a game or two together x.
“I loved the Boy with the utmost love of which my soul is capable, and he is taken from me — yet in the agony of my spirit in surrendering such a treasure, I feel a thousand times richer than if I had never possessed it” William Wordsworth.
As was his wish, we will continue with his fundraising efforts through this blog and his Just Giving page at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chemotionally-unstable
His total (with Gift Aid) has just exceeded £150,000 and the whole family thank you all for your kind and generous donations. There are lots of fundraising events planned for the rest of 2019 and into 2020 to raise even more money for Cancer Research UK which will be used exclusively for sarcoma research, as was Gareth’s request. Soft tissue sarcomas are rare and often have a poor prognosis, so funding into research is limited because they are not ‘high profile’. However, they are predominantly childhood cancers and have a profound effect on families and friends, as we are well aware. During Gareth’s treatment at the Young Persons Cancer ward at St James’s Hospital in Leeds - funded by the wonderful Teenage Cancer Trust - he spent a lot of time with children far younger than him having treatment, reassuring them and helping them through their chemotherapy with his infectious humour and good nature, so if we could save just one life with your kind donations what a legacy that would be.
Events coming up include the second Cookridge Community 10K which as mentioned, will take place in 2020 on Sunday 17 May – go to http://cookridgecommunityrun.co.uk/ to enter.
Please do spread the word and keep reading the blog. If you have any events you want us to promote, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Lee, April, Rhys, Olivia and Florence!
Thank you to everyone who has donated to Chemotionally Unstable- I am sure Gareth would be proud and grateful to each and every one of you.
For anyone that would like to fundraise for Chemotionally Unstable or would like fundraising ideas please contact myself or Rhys; over the last few months we have had people partake in tough mudders, marathons, half marathons, 10 km , swimming events, football matches , organise bake sales (to name but a few.) As well as being a great way to fundraise these events allow more people to hear about Gareth and the amazing legacy he has left behind.
Earlier this month I received the sad news that Alessandro Mangogna passed away at 27 years old from synovial sarcoma. Alessandro had contacted Gareth last August after reading his blog. Similarly to Gareth he was a keen sportsman, and had plans to join the Italian Paralympic Team post his amputation. When Gareth heard of his Paralympic plans he had hoped to give him his running blade unfortunately Alessandro had an above the knee amputation and Gareth's blade was not suitable.
Despite Alessandro living in Italy and some initial language barriers, Gareth and Alessandro exchanged messages over the course of a few weeks. Anyone who was lucky enough to receive a message off Gareth will know how lengthy they could be, but he was able to give the best advise and somehow put you at ease through a text message. After Gareth died Alessandro told me that Gareth had reassured him about the amputation and chemotherapy. Alessandro had read Gareth's blogs and it provided support to him prior to him having his amputation. Alessandro and his partner Arianne kindly kept in contact with me after Gareth's death- updating me on his progress and sending me pictures and videos of him learning to walk again. One message that is poignant from Alessandro is the following-
"Gareth really had an impact on me and even though we only messaged a few times I felt like I knew him for a lot longer. I'll do my best to beat this monster of a disease and every achievement will be Gareth's as well."
My thoughts are with Alessandro, Arianne and his family during this difficult time. Ale's death is yet another sad reminder of the cruel nature of the disease and the importance and difference fundraising will make.