Jade Payne, 35, from Brackley met Daniel through mutual friends in 2007 and they quickly fell in love. The couple bonded over their mutual appreciation of comedians Jason Manford, John Bishop and Romesh Ranganathan. Jade is also a huge Westlife fan so the couple went to see them live together and their music remains a huge comfort to her now when remembering their time together.
Daniel was first diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2006 when he was just 22-years-old. It was following an MRI scan after having surgery to remove it that his low grade brain tumour was also discovered. After a biopsy, he had more surgery to remove as much of the brain tumour as possible and then he had regular scans to monitor for any changes. The couple married in 2018 in a sunny ceremony when Daniel’s tumour was stable yet with no idea of what the next year devastatingly had in store for them.
It was after 13 gruelling years of three surgeries, a course of radiotherapy and two rounds of oral chemotherapy for the two tumours that Daniel, aged 35, passed away on 23rd December 2019 with a heartbroken Jade by his side.
With the festive season fast approaching, Jade is now preparing for a difficult time – which she thinks could be worse that last Christmas which was dominated by the lockdown. She will commemorate her husband’s life by putting a small potted Christmas tree in the garden of the home the couple shared with their dog, Wilson. This is both where Daniel took his last breath and also where his ashes sit poignantly on a shelf in the living room today.
On every birthday, wedding anniversary and Christmas, Jade also lights a candle and puts out flowers in their garden to commemorate the love that they shared.
“I love the magic of Christmas, it’s one of my favourite times of the year. Daniel knew how much I loved Christmas and he made me promise not to spend the festive season moping and wallowing because he said he would never forgive himself for that. So, as hard as it is having lost him just two days before the big day, I am going to try and enjoy myself without him. I will take each day as it comes and allow myself to feel sad if I need to for just a moment.”
Jade added: “Everyone told me that the year of ‘firsts’ without Daniel would be the hardest. But this year, without a series of lockdowns, has been much worse for me. The lockdowns allowed me to try and heal myself and make sense about what had happened. But now I know that my husband is missing out on so much.”
It was in 2006 that Daniel was first diagnosed with a low-grade astrocytoma brain tumour. He had been experiencing pins and needles down the right hand side of his face and some pressure in his head when he bent down. The medical team at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford said that the tumour was slow-growing but they were unable to say how long it may have been there for.
Jade said: “I can’t fault the treatment Daniel had – the whole team were amazing. They listened to me and always talked things through so we understood what was happening. Daniel wouldn’t often complain so they would take my concerns on board instead. Daniel was a protector and he didn’t like fuss so he would hide how much pain he was in – but his eyes were the biggest giveaway.
“I am shocked about the poor treatment options which were available though. This is something which really needs to change and more funding is needed to help organisations like The Brain Tumour Charity to do that. Watching someone you love become a shell of themselves and lose the ability to do the everyday things which we usually take for granted is indescribably painful and utterly heartbreaking.”
The Brain Tumour Charity is the world's leading brain tumour charity and the largest dedicated funder of research into brain tumours globally. 33 people are diagnosed with a brain tumour every day and it is the biggest cancer killer amongst children and adults under the age of 40.
After a relapse in 2010, Daniel got the all-clear from testicular cancer in 2015. So he proposed to Jade on her 29th birthday that year and they married in June 2018. At the time, the scans of what was currently a low-grade brain tumour were coming back stable with no cause for concern so the couple were jubilant at the prospect of a promising future ahead of them.
As a wedding gift, Jade wrote to Arsenal Football Club, Daniel’s team, and asked them to sign a card. She explained the circumstances around Daniel’s illness and they sent back a letter from Asene Wenger and a signed picture of the team.
Jade said: “Our wedding day was beautiful and hot. That morning, Daniel’s Facebook status said: “Today’s the day I marry the love of my life, soulmate and best friend.” – It was the first and only time he put something so lovely. Daniel was more emotional than me during the day. After the meal, Daniel kept telling me how happy he was. Daniel’s face was a picture when he opened up the gift. He was so shocked that I had done that for him.”
If Daniel ever forgot to take the anti-seizure medication then he would have headaches and pain behind his eyes. This happened in June 2019 when the couple went to see Westlife perform live. The band meant a lot to the couple including their song ‘Unbreakable’ and Jade’s favourite ‘Flying without Wings’.
Jade said: “At the concert, Daniel could hardly see and his head was throbbing – he felt so ill. I said we should just go home as I had enjoyed a few songs already but Daniel knew how much Westlife meant to me so he chose to endure the pain to make me happy. It didn’t matter how many times I insisted during the show that we should go home, he was selfless and stubborn and he refused to leave.
“Even now, Westlife are my favourite band and they are my go-to music whatever mood I am. A lot of their music resonates with me and reminds me of Daniel so it just picks me back up when I may be feeling down.”
Despite the best possible efforts, in 2016 Daniel’s tumour changed to high-grade. This meant more surgery, which unfortunately led to an infection in the skull flap, as well as rounds of radiotherapy and oral chemotherapy in 2017 and 2019. Daniel also had a seizure in the hospital which could have been caused by the infection or the changing tumour so he took medication to control them.
However, after the second round of chemotherapy, Daniel made the difficult decision to stop all treatment as he knew he was approaching the end of his life and he wanted to enjoy the time left with loved ones.
Daniel chose to stay at home with care and support from district nurses and hospice staff. Jade’s family also helped by walking the dog, bringing food deliveries or just being there to listen to them both. Daniel’s dad also visited every day and Jade managed the steady stream of enquiries for Daniel’s friends who regularly checked in on how he was doing.
In the final weeks, carers came to the house three times a day to help with meals and getting Daniel washed and dressed. District nurses came once a day to help with administering medicine and pain relief and Jade also had weekly help and support from the GP and rapid response nurses on stand-by.
Daniel’s condition continued to deteriorate and he was sleeping a lot whilst getting increasingly agitated, confused and in regular pain or discomfort. Despite the chaos, the couple did get to spend precious time together laughing and joking as they used to do or watching their favourite films together.
In the days leading up to Christmas, arrangements were made to provide an overnight nurse to help Jade look after Daniel and administer the strong doses of medication that he now required. But, just as this was confirmed, Daniel passed away peacefully on Monday 23 December with his devoted wife and Wilson by his side.
Jade said: “Daniel’s decision to stop treatment was so incredibly brave – he just couldn’t keep fighting anymore. He was a happy-go-lucky kind of man and he never let his brain tumour affect his daily life until it progressed as quickly as it did. Even having a brain tumour at the age of 22 didn’t stop his positive attitude. He held on to his energy and his love for banter with loved ones or the medical teams looking after him.
“He did have moments in the final stages when he couldn’t cope though – he was so frustrated with his body failing him and he would sometimes get angry with it all but I knew it was just the tumour talking. He hated having to rely on me to care for him and he would often apologise for being useless. I would always tell him that I know he would do the same for me. But he hated that he was dying and putting me through it all too.
“I always knew that I’d lose Daniel to his brain tumour but I didn’t expect it to be so soon. Nothing can prepare you for losing the love of your life. I think you just have to accept that it’s going to happen and ensure that you make every day count. Treasure every conversation, every laugh, every cuddle and every kiss because you don’t know if it will be your last.”
Jade found out about The Brain Tumour Charity in 2016 when Daniel’s tumour changed to high-grade and she searched online for information about the tumour type and possible outcomes. She said it helped her to understand what was happening to her beloved husband during a very difficult time. She did also find out about the Charity’s support services including live chat, a phone line and online groups, but she was focussing on Daniel rather than herself at the time.
Jade said: “I was told time after time by Daniel’s care team that they were here for me too but I wasn’t interested. In my eyes, Daniel was the priority. I was running on adrenaline, determination and high stress levels for months. It was overwhelming at times but I was so focussed on getting Daniel what he needed and being his voice that I didn’t care about myself. I thought I would seek help after he passed. I didn’t trust anyone else with Daniel’s care even though I knew he was in safe hands so I never took a break.
“It was only a couple of days before he passed away that I finally asked for help. I couldn’t do it anymore and seeing all the changes in Daniel because of the tumour was becoming increasingly difficult. I know now that I should have taken more time for myself so that I could have coped better with it all but I wanted to be with him and interact with him as much was possible during the time we had left together.
“I did find comfort in the support on offer from The Brain Tumour Charity even if I didn’t act on it at the time. I do still struggle to talk about my feelings and I am quite matter-of-fact about everything we have been through. It still feels very raw and I struggle to find the words. I know the barriers I still have up will come down in time and that will change and I know where to find that support when I am ready and able to express the heartbreak I feel inside.”
For now, Jade is trying to remember Daniel in everything that she does and take joy in the little things that they used to do together such as listening to Westlife, watching one of their favourite TV shows or walking Wilson the dog.
Jade said: “I always just accepted Daniel for who he was – Daniel was Daniel despite the cancer. I will always love him and he will always be a part of my life. There are photos which I find it too painful to look at and then there’s other ones which bring back such happy memories. There are so many stories which bring with them a sense of warmth, happiness, love and laughter which keep Daniel’s memory alive.
“Daniel’s outlook on life and the way he handled his illness has changed me for the better. He will always be my hero – he was so brave and strong throughout his 13-year fight with cancer.
“I think about him every day and talk about him whenever someone will listen. He will never be forgotten and I want to include him in my everything. Yet, I am learning to live without him and how to be kind to myself whilst I come to terms with what happened. Daniel would want me to enjoy this time of year by smiling, laughing and being in the moment so that’s what I will strive to do.”