When Anne Learmonth’s husband David was diagnosed with terminal cancer it came as a bolt from the blue.
“It was such a shock as David was so fit – he wasn’t overweight, he wasn’t a smoker and he had a strong heart. He cycled a lot and had been very healthy,” Anne explains.
David was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2012 and died at home the following year. His symptoms were initially misdiagnosed as an enlarged prostate in 2011 and he had to wait nearly a year for the correct diagnosis in October 2012, dying three months later. Anne has since received compensation from the hospital involved due to negligence.
When he died the couple had been together for around 20 years. “David and I first met in France in 1991, during the Paris-Brest-Paris bike ride – it’s a 1,200km event with a maximum time of 90 hours,” Anne says.
“That was the first time we met and we shared the road a few times back in the UK on endurance cycle rides. The 1993 London-Edinburgh-London 1400km event was when we got together. We always shared that love of cycling.”
The couple married in 2007 and lived near Swansea. David was a civil servant for the Department of Work and Pensions and Anne a speech and language therapist.
After his diagnosis radical surgery was attempted. “If successful, David would have had a urostomy and colostomy,” Anne continues. “This would have meant a big change of lifestyle but we would have coped. The surgeon opened Dave up but the tumour had adhered to his bones and blood vessels: there was no further treatment option but palliative care.
“I first contacted Marie Curie myself. I went to the hospice to just talk and was given some leaflets about end of life. We were very much on the palliative care path and out of the ‘fix it’ hospital mentality.
“I found the Macmillan nurse in hospital helpful. They made time to talk and were empathic. They suggested I phoned Marie Curie, the Port Neath Talbot branch. I got the spare bedroom ready as an area for the Marie Curie carers with a kettle, chair and reading light.
“We had Marie Curie nurses come to the house in December and through to Christmas. My local branch were not able to offer the night help but a nurse would come during the day, and I knew I could phone with questions and for support.”
After David’s death, Anne eventually felt herself drawn to her bike once more. “Cycling was such a shared passion for us. It was a huge part of our lives together. We did cycling touring holidays in many countries; Europe, Cuba and Sri Lanka, as well as the big races. We enjoyed our adventures together.
“When you love a partner and you have them to share something like that with, it can be hard to go back to it as I felt it would make me miss him so much.
“The first time I went out on a bike after Dave died, I felt heavy but then it was like he was with me in the saddlebag. He asked me to ‘please do the things we would have done together’ and this inspired me to get back out on my bike.
I did the Etape Pennine in October 2013. My niece, who lives in the Pennines, did it with me, which was great. I then went on to cycle Calais- Nice- Corsica in 2013. And I toured from the Pyrenees home in 2014. In 2015, I did the Paris- Brest-Paris for the fourth time and it was brilliant.”
Later this month Anne will be heading up to Scotland to take part in the 81-mile Etape Caledonia, which starts and ends in Pitlochry and takes place on May 21. “I’m excited to be riding the Etape Caledonia this year and to be raising funds in Dave’s memory – once again I shall be doing it with my niece. She has a little boy now so it’s a way of her getting fit again and it’s lovely for us to do it together.
“I hear Chris Boardman is riding and I wonder if I will be able to sell him a ‘riding after Dave Lewis’ badge? Back in the 1980s I was in a time trial women’s event when Chris was in the men’s event.”
The Marie Curie Etape Caledonia takes place on May 21. To find out more or donate to Marie Curie go to www.etapecaledonia.co.uk