Sharon's Story

"Gary was a devoted family man and a very private person, but in the last months of his life through the hospice he made new friends, which his widow says made an enormous difference to him"

In 2015, Glengormley woman, Sharon Mills, faced the worst time of her life when she had to accept that time was running out for her husband Gary after a long and brave battle with cancer.

A father-of-three and grandfather of six, Gary (56) was able to spend his last Christmas at home surrounded by his family thanks to the hospice before passing away peacefully on December 27.

Gary, who worked as a scientific officer, was first diagnosed with a malignant melanoma more than 16 years ago and was given the all-clear - only for it to come back in 2010 and spread to his lungs.

He received treatment for nearly six years but, by the start of 2015, his health had deteriorated significantly, and last year he underwent a number of operations to remove tumours in his arm.

Sharon recalls: "He really was the bravest man I've ever known. He came through so much and he never complained.

"No one - only Gary and I - knew exactly what he was going through because he didn't want to worry anyone.

"The last six years of his life was one long battle and he fought for us.

"We also packed in as much as we could, and I have lovely memories of us renewing our wedding vows in Las Vegas.

"It was something I always wanted to do and he surprised me with it about four years ago.

"He was so thoughtful, and even in the hospice I had to remind him sometimes that he was a patient and that he didn't work there because he was always taking people for walks and bringing them things they needed. He was a very caring, loving man."

When it became clear about this time last year that Gary's condition was terminal, his GP took the decision to refer him to hospice care.

Sharon says she was unaware of exactly what service the hospice provided, and she still can't believe how they helped make a difficult time so much easier to deal with for her and for all of her family.

The couple have three children - Mark (37) and Lynsey (33), who were Gary's step-children, and son Kyle (22). They also have six grandchildren.

Sharon will never forget the shock and distress of hearing that Gary needed hospice care.

"When he came home and told me the doctor said that he was being referred to the hospice, I was hysterical - I thought that was it," she says.

"I'd never had experience of the hospice before, and I thought that it was only somewhere you went to die.

Childminder Sharon (55), who has a 35-year-old daughter Danielle, says that they could never have coped if it hadn't been for the support of the hospice, which made Gary's last month's not only easier to bear, but also helped them to build some special memories.

Poignantly she reveals that her husband passed away on the 20th anniversary of their stillborn son's death, something she believes he did to spare the family more anguish.

Gary was a devoted family man and a very private person, but in the last months of his life through the hospice he made new friends, which his widow says made an enormous difference to him.

"Thanks to the hospice, we got to have those precious moments at home, one last Christmas with all of us together."