WHEN Simon Dean met his wife Sarah in 2001, he knew instantly that she was the one.
A mutual friend set the pair up after they had both been through divorce and they fell madly in love.
The couple moved in together in 2004 in Bournemouth and their families became blended.
Simon has two children, Sophie, now 28 and Lewis, 30 and Sarah also had two, Erin, now 26 and Harry, 31.
When the couple first got together, the children were very young and considered themselves as siblings more than step brothers and sisters.
The families gelled easily and in 2007 Simon and Sarah took the plunge and became man and wife.
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They enjoyed years of happiness together and in March 2015, Simon, 60, decided that he wanted to step down from his high pressure role as business development manager at Britvic that he had been in for 25 years.
He wanted to spend more time with Sarah, who worked as a receptionist at an opticians, and they had planned to go travelling together, and enjoy their lives.
But that September, Sarah, was given the shocking diagnosis that she had blood cancer, after initially being told by doctors that she was fine, she was just 54-years-old when they were given the shocking news.
Each year in the UK more than 5,700 people are diagnosed with myeloma – a type of blood cancer that develops from cells in the bone marrow called plasma cells, according to Cancer Research UK – and at any one time there are around 24,000 people living with the illness in the UK.
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It is treatable, but is currently an incurable cancer.
Speaking to The Sun, Simon says Sarah knew something wasn’t right.
He is sharing their story in order to raise awareness of myeloma and the symptoms to look out for.
Throughout the summer of 2015, Simon said his beautiful wife talked about being tired and fatigued.
“She thought something was wrong with her so she went to the doctors several times.
“She thought she was becoming a hypochondriac, but deep down she knew she was unwell,” he remembers.
Over the next few months, Sarah continued to visit the doctor.
She was so brave, it was such a rollercoaster
“She had blood tests, they said she was anaemic and they needed to up her iron levels.
“It seemed to be one thing after another, but she was still generally pretty well, but she just knew she didn’t feel right,” says Simon.
The weekend before Sarah’s diagnosis, the doting couple took a trip to London with friends.
“Sarah was always the life of the party and that weekend she just looked beautiful, gorgeous.”
Simon says this is how he will always remember his wife, because after that trip away, their lives would never be the same again.
Sarah had been to the doctors yet again and had called Simon at around 5pm in the evening, just as he was about to leave work.
She told Simon the doctors had done some tests and that they wanted her to go straight to A&E.
What is myeloma and what are the signs?
Myeloma is a cancer that begins in the plasma cells, a type of white blood cell which is made in the bone marrow.
Plasma cells form part of your immune system.
Normal plasma cells produce antibodies, also called immunoglobulins, to help fight infection.
In myeloma, plasma cells become abnormal, multiply uncontrollably and release only one type of antibody known as paraprotein, which has no useful function.
Unlike many cancers, myeloma does not exist as a lump or tumour.
Most of the complications arise from a build-up of abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow.
Treatment is often aimed at controlling the symptoms of myeloma with a combination of drugs.
What are the signs?
- bone pain
- bone fractures
- spinal cord compression
- pins and needles
- repeated infections
- raised calcium levels in the blood
- unusual bleeding
- thickened blood
- kidney problems
“I dropped everything and made my way to Bournemouth Hospital A&E, as at first, they thought she had an acute kidney injury.
“But she was very quickly transferred to Dorchester Hospital and she stayed there for 10 days. It was just test after test and specialist after specialist.”
Simon says he will never forget the day the couple found out Sarah had myeloma.
“We heard two nurses talking in the corridor and they said it was suspected. It could have been about anyone, but the next day we saw a specialist and he told us it was myeloma.”
From there, Sarah’s kidneys failed and she had to spend three months having chemotherapy.
She would leave the house at 6.30am to go to the hospital three mornings a week for dialysis.
By Christmas she was well enough to come off the treatment as her kidneys were functioning again.
“We had a lovely Christmas at home. Sarah was very tired but she made the most of it,” says Simon.
“She was so brave, it was such a rollercoaster.”
Sarah knew she would lose her hair so shaved it off and hardly ever wore a wig; she was comfortable with her new look.
The next four years, Simon says, were a whirlwind.
“She had nine or ten different chemotherapies and everytime we would have a positive result and then the cancer would come back.
“Sarah had two stem cell transplants, sepsis, pneumonia, all at varying times.
“One year, sepsis was caused by a dodgy canular.
“She was in and out of hospital, the myeloma had attacked her back bone and her vertebra were mashed into one.
“No matter how many treatments she had, she remained positive and her haematologist, Dr Rachael Hall, was convinced it was her positivity that gave her more time.”
The couple still continued to enjoy themselves, spending time with friends and family.
Although there would be times they would go out and Sarah would become tired, with the couple retreating early.
“She wouldn’t drink and everyone would say how well and marvellous she was.
“But we would get home and she would go straight to sleep, she would really find it a struggle as she wasn’t well at all.”
The treatment meant they were able to go on holiday to Croatia together in July 2019 and they both thought the treatment was working.
For a few weeks after returning, everything seemed fine, but then Sarah started to become unwell again.
On the August bank holiday weekend they went to a family wedding and Simon had a hangover, so Sarah drove them home.
Then on Monday, Simon went to a car show with Sarah and his dad.
But on Tuesday morning, Sarah woke up and said she felt sick and was running a temperature.
“That had happened before, so as always we would go to hospital.
“I did that several times, driving Sarah down. But she didn’t seem herself and to be honest, I was short with her because I was upset she hadn’t told me how poorly she was feeling.
"As soon as I parked the car a nurse wheeled her in and the next think I knew we were surrounded by doctors and nurses."
After that, Sarah was kept on a ventilator so that her kids and family could come and say goodbye.
“I spent that Tuesday night holding her hand, I knew she was going to die the next day,” Simon says.
Sarah passed away on August 29 and Simon was left heartbroken.
Since then, Simon says he has been on a ‘weird journey’.
Losing Sarah was absolutely devastating, but Simon has since found love again and is now engaged to Di Pritchard.
He met Di the day after Sarah died by chance, as Di worked at a pub opposite the woodland burial grounds where Sarah is buried.
They eventually became a couple two years ago and got engaged in May 2021.
Sarah is still a big part of both of their lives. They have a photo of Sarah in their living room and Di has also become friends with Sarah’s best friends.
Simon said he feels grateful that his family have remained as close as they have.
He said he is proud of his children and knows Sarah would be too.
Without his kids and Di, Simon says he really would have struggled.
“It’s not been easy for Di, as of course she feels like she is in Sarah’s shadow. They never met but I know it’s not been easy for her.
“She has been prepared to not let that be an issue and I couldn’t have gotten through it if it hadn't been for her.
“I count my blessings that I'm still here.”
Simon is now working with Myeloma UK in order to help raise awareness of blood cancer.
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“It was too soon for Sarah, but knowing the signs and getting more funding for research could be a breakthrough for others,” he added.
In order to honour her legacy, Simon had launched a fundraising campaign for Myeloma and has so far managed to raise over £1,000.
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