From the moment I laid eyes on Pia, I was determined to get to know her.
She went to the girls’ school attached to the boys’ school I was attending. I was 16 and she was 17 when we met, and she stood out from the crowd both in looks and personality.
After many failed attempts on my behalf, Pia and I eventually started dating, so we were certainly childhood sweethearts. I knew even then that she was the one for me.
After that, we were inseparable.
We had been together for 27 years when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2020. She was 53.
We’d been on holiday in Portugal and during the last two weeks there, she’d had a sore stomach. We thought it was excessive eating and drinking, but she decided to get it checked out.
There were no other signs of illness, and certainly nothing debilitating.
Due to Covid restrictions, she couldn’t get an in person appointment, but booked a Zoom call with the GP as soon as possible. Something about what she described unnerved them as they referred Pia to hospital for a scan.
I remember the date of that second appointment well: Monday 26 October 2020 – it turned out to be the worst day of my life.
We were together when the doctor called with the results that afternoon, and Pia was asked to take a seat.
The doctor told us that Pia had pancreatic cancer. We were in total shock. We never thought this would happen to us. Pia was a personal trainer and fitness teacher so was super fit. We just couldn’t understand why this had happened to us.
We vowed to fight the disease so that we could be together for our kids unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.
She was immediately referred to an oncologist who told us that, for the moment, it was inoperable but hoped to get the disease under control with a course of chemotherapy.
We were also told not to read the data about pancreatic cancer online as the statistics were pessimistic and outdated. Inevitably if I’m told not to look, then I’ll look. The data was not good.
Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all of the 20 most common cancers and one person dies of pancreatic cancer every hour. I decided to keep these statistics to myself as my wife was already distraught and I wanted to keep her focused for the fight ahead.
We were in shock for a while and wanted to understand the nature of the treatment before we told anyone. At that stage we had no other thoughts than to beat the disease.
A couple of weeks later, just before Pia was due to start her first treatment, I told our two children, Emilia, then 17, who was living at home and Rhiannon, then 20, who was studying English at Exeter University.
Needless to say these were tough conversations and the girls were very upset, but we all focused on getting Pia through this and truly believed we would.
The diagnosis didn’t deter or deflate Pia’s determination to confront it full on – regardless of how debilitating and difficult the consequences of her treatment were.
The treatment got harder and her illness more consuming. Her attitude was summed up in her two mantras, heard many times during her treatment: ‘I can and I will’ and ‘Bring it on’. She fought so hard with great courage and dignity.
Pia was born in Cardiff inMay 1967 and was the youngest of six.
If you know the TV series Gavin and Stacey, Pia used to work in the kiosk on Barry Island – now made famous by the TV series – and the family used to own it before selling it. Pia worked there every summer.
We stayed together even when Pia headed off to Swansea University in 1985 to study Management Science and French. I followed her a year later to study Electronic and Electrical Engineering.
We both graduated in 1989 and I followed Pia to a job in the South East. We just didn’t want to be apart. We married on 1 May 1994 – her 27th birthday! It was the only way I could guarantee I wouldn’t miss our anniversary.
During the course of our lives together, we lived in South Africa, Israel and Dubai. Rhiannon was born in October 2000 and Emilia followed in July 2003.
It was during our 10 years living in Dubai that Pia developed her passion for fitness, qualifying as a fitness coach and teacher.
It was a career that she continued upon our return to the UK in 2014 and I know she was an inspiration to many people, with class members becoming dear friends.
Caring and kind, she was loved by all.
Throughout her treatment she continued to worry about others rather than herself. During a two-week spell in hospital in August, she became very ill. Still, she would still manage a smile and a conversation with the nurses as they entered her room.
By the time she came home after a chemo session, she knew all the problems the nurses had in their personal lives.
Pia was becoming increasingly ill at this time, she’d lost a lot of weight and couldn’t eat much. She had a number of blood clots in her legs – a side effect of this disease – and was also having to take about 50 tablets a day. Pia had always hated taking even a paracetamol for a headache so this was a real struggle for her.
Tragically, Pia passed away on 8September 2021 – just over 10 months from her first diagnosis. It’s horrendous that she has been taken away from us so early.
She enjoyed nothing more than her precious family being together. We were never short of laughter and jokes – as well as large quantities of alcohol.
Her pride and joy was our two children. They were the absolute apples of her eyes.
She was so proud of what they’d achieved and the special people they’ve become. She was never more proud than when, last March, both girls did the Walk for Life charity event and raised more than £8,500 for pancreatic cancer – the second highest fundraisers at the event.
As we approach Mother’s Day we think back to last year when we were still full of hope that she would beat this disease. Back then, Pia was still pretty fit, walking every day on the Surrey Downs with her beloved dog, Monty.
Never did we think that it would be her final Mother’s Day. Every ‘first’ without her is incomprehensibly difficult – our first Mother’s Day will be no different. The girls and I will get through it together.
It’s why we’ve decided to walk 200 miles from Billericay, Essex, to Barry Island, South Wales, to honour Pia’s life and raise money for pancreatic cancer.
The walk is based on the TV series Gavin and Stacey, a show loved by Pia and the rest of the family. The walk we are undertaking is helping us get through and we know she will be so proud of us. We begin our walk on 20 April, and are planning on finishing in Barry Island, at the kiosk where she once worked, on 1 May – her birthday and our wedding anniversary.
This walk is for our mum, wife and friend, who we know would be the first person to go out of their way to help anyone, and we want to honour her by trying to help other families and prevent the pain we, and many others, are going through.
Pia was more than a wife – she was my lifelong partner, soulmate and best friend. I will miss her desperately. The world is a darker place today without Pia, but our memories of her will live on and her legacy will survive through Rhiannon and Emilia. I feel very lucky and privileged to have known her and shared my life with her.
A colleague sent me a quote, which resonated with me. I believe it sums up what we are all feeling today: ‘Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, Love leaves memories no one can steal.’
You can support Simon and his daughters in their Walk for Pia here
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