Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

I lost my young wife to leukaemia... now I want to help others battling the disease

David Montgomery from Portadown, whose wife Victoria died last year from leukaemia, not long after the birth of their daughter Rebecca.
David Montgomery from Portadown, whose wife Victoria died last year from leukaemia, not long after the birth of their daughter Rebecca.

The widower of a solicitor who died from leukaemia – leaving a baby daughter – has spoken of his determination to use the tragedy to get more people to sign the bone marrow register.

David Montgomery (32) is also hoping to raise awareness of the importance of giving blood in memory of 31-year-old Victoria, who died on November 20 last year.

Victoria died just months after the couple celebrated their daughter Rebecca's first birthday.

The popular solicitor was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in February 2012 and underwent a number of treatments.

But doctors soon told the Portadown couple her illness was terminal and there was nothing more they could do.

"She fought on for a couple of months but her body just couldn't fight any more," David said.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph as the young mother's first anniversary approaches, the widower told of the devastating impact of Victoria's death.

But he also spoke of his determination for something positive to come from the experience – and of how he keeps his wife's memory alive with their young daughter.

The trading systems developer, who is originally from Dungannon, said: "It's something you never, ever contemplate, especially when everything was going so perfectly.

"My life will never be the same without her. I never stop thinking about her; she's always on my mind."

Despite his overwhelming grief, David is arranging a series of fundraising events for the charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI.

He explained that with the support of family, friends and colleagues from NYSE Euronext in Belfast he has already raised around £55,000 for Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI through a series of events. These include the 2013 Belfast Marathon, pub quizzes at the Errigle Inn, Cocktails at The House, a head shave and a pool competition.

Upcoming events to honour Victoria include a November 16 concert, organised by Edenderry Methodist Church in Portadown, and next March David will take on the Rome Marathon.

"Victoria's diagnosis came out of the blue, and none of the disease risk factors applied to her," he said.

"This horrendous experience has changed me and our families forever."

David's experience led him to try to understand more about leukaemia, current treatments and potential therapies that may be available in the future.

"Having spoken to many senior clinicians and researchers I know that so much more needs to be done to combat this devastating cancer of the bone marrow.

"We need to fund extensive research to find new targeted treatments for the many different forms of the disease. Trying to help other people with this disease is hugely important to me," he added. "I don't want other families to go through what we've experienced."

David has formed a close relationship with the team at Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI, regularly participating in their events and meetings.

"I've been able to discuss current and future research, which has helped me to improve my knowledge of the disease, and to participate in charity events," he said.

"The researchers funded through the charity have an international reputation and there is now a critical mass of researchers in Northern Ireland focusing specifically on these blood and bone marrow cancers.

'Victoria was such a wonderful partner and loving mother'

Victoria Montgomery was a remarkable young woman.

A devoted mother, as well as a caring wife, daughter, sister and friend, the 31-year-old solicitor put her loved ones at the heart of everything she did.

She was a beautiful singer, with a love of music and languages, and was also a committed Christian.

Most importantly, Victoria was a doting mum to her only child Rebecca who turned one just a few months before the Portadown woman died from leukaemia.

David Montgomery's pride in his late wife is evident as he describes her bubbly personality – and how alike she and Rebecca are.

"Victoria was such a beautiful person, inside and out," he said.

"She was the most wonderful wife and loving mother to our daughter Rebecca.

"She was a respected solicitor and an accomplished singer with a love for music and languages.

"She was a committed Christian and loved to sing in our church praise group."

"Victoria was just amazing; really bubbly, outgoing, genuine and caring."

A well-respected legal mind, who was always thinking of others, prior to her death Victoria had tried to engage with the migrant community in Portadown to represent their rights.

And her positivity when faced with a terminal illness serves as an inspiration to us all.

During the time the young mum spent in hospital undergoing gruelling treatment for leukaemia, Victoria talked to her husband about how he could help others.

"Essentially, Vicky spent eight months in hospital so we sat and chatted continuously," he said.

"We talked about everything and about raising awareness and funds to help other people."

While two-year-old Rebecca will grow up without her loving mother, David is determined his daughter will know everything about her.

The widower also told the Belfast Telegraph that being a single dad is a challenge, but little Rebecca, who was born in March 2011, is his world.

"She's like her mum," he said.

"She's a beautiful wee thing; a really wonderful little girl with a bubbly personality.

"She helps me a lot and I've got two great sets of families I rely on a lot. Rebecca will know everything about her mum.

"We look at photographs and talk about her all the time."

David is also determined to keep his wife's memory alive, and through awareness and fundraising, to stop other families from having to go through the agony she experienced.

How David's story is helping in the fight against deadly illnesses

The team at Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI has praised David Montgomery for sharing his story to raise awareness of leukaemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers.

Previously known as the Northern Ireland Leukaemia Research Fund, the charity supports scientists from the haematology research laboratories in the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen's University Belfast and Belfast City Hospital.

It also supports research into the causes and therapies for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), myeloproliferative diseases, lymphoid diseases andmMyeloma.

Caroline Crothers, a coordinator at Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI, said: "It is crucial that people like David tell their story in order to increase public awareness of blood cancers.

"Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI is the only charity in Northern Ireland solely dedicated to fighting leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma and other related conditions.

"All of the funds raised by the organisation remain in Northern Ireland to promote research into the causes and cure of leukaemia, lymphoma and related conditions," Caroline added.

"Our scientists are experts in their field and with their research aim to understand how the disease develops, better ways of treating all these diseases and ultimately improve the outcome and quality of life for patients of all ages who are affected by leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma and other related conditions."

What is leukaemia?

Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells and these cells are produced by the bone marrow. There are many different types of leukaemia and it is identified by which type of white blood cell is affected and whether it is chronic or acute. Acute leukaemia comes on suddenly, often within days or weeks, progressing quickly, and must be treated urgently. Chronic leukaemia may develop more slowly, often over many months or years. In Northern Ireland, less than four out of 10 acute leukaemia patients will be alive after 24 months, and this decreases to only two out 10 if patients are aged over 60.

What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma occurs when lymphocytes – the white blood cells that help protect the body from both infection and disease – begin behaving in an abnormal way. They may then grow and divide faster than normal lymphoid cells or they may live longer than they are supposed to by not dying when they should. The incidence of one type of lymphoma – non-Hodgkins lymphoma – has increased nearly threefold in the past 20 years.

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