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Tyrone widow hopes brave Robbie Ryan's legacy will be to encourage cancer patients to research all options for treatment

By Cate McCurry

A heartbroken widow said she hopes speaking about her husband's experience will encourage more cancer sufferers to research other treatments aside from what the ones they're being offered.

Robbie Ryan (48) from Ballinderry, Co Tyrone, died two days before Christmas following a long battle with an inoperable and aggressive brain tumour.

Robbie, his wife Nuala and their young family were preparing for the worst after they discovered the tumour had grown back when pioneering medical treatment failed to work.

"He knew himself from October that this was going to happen, but we got to spend precious time with people that we needed to," Nuala said.

"He did go off peacefully, and he didn't really suffer."

Robbie, a keen cyclist and walker, was diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma brain tumour in September 2015.

Months after he went through lifesaving brain surgery at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital, they discovered the tumour had grown back even larger.

The couple began tirelessly campaigning to raise £200,000 for costly immunotherapy treatment not available on the NHS.

Nuala became aware of the treatment after reading a story about Nicki Waterman, a fitness expert who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and was in remission after receiving immunotherapy.

The pair flew to London in April this year to meet Dr Paul Mulholland, an oncologist at the Macmillan Cancer Centre at University College Hospital.

Each treatment costs around £30,000 and can usually take four attempts.

By July Robbie had undergone a number of treatments and the family remained hopeful when a scan revealed the tumour had shrunk. However, after he went through the final course of the immunotherapy drug Ipilimumab in August the tumour grew back, and the family were left with no further options.

Robbie died at his home on Friday surrounded by his loving family.

"It was two days before Christmas, but then when is a good time?" Nuala said.

"We've had our Christmas decorations up from the beginning of December and I was able to go to the kids' plays on that week.

"He died on the Friday, but we decided that the kids deserved Santa, and we did have Santa and we had a lovely day.

"Throughout all of this it was important for Robbie and I that our family wasn't affected by this.

"We made life as normal as possible and we got to do stuff as normal."

Speaking about the heartbreaking moment she and Robbie told their family that the treatment had not worked, she said: "I remember we sat the family down at the table and we told them what was going to happen.

"He sat there through that and I just thought: 'This is hard for me but it's bound to be even harder for you'.

"But he was gracious, as he was in everything that he did.

"We went on holidays and all the rest."

The couple had raised over £30,000, and now Nuala wants any funds left over to go to cancer charities.

"We have contributed to research in that we have made people more aware in Northern Ireland that there are other options out there.

"That is the legacy we would like Robbie to have - for people to realise that whenever they are told they have cancer and there is little available to them, that they can research and see what's out there and what other countries are doing.

"They shouldn't just accept what they are told.

"That is the message that we would like to get out there - that there are other options.

"We also can't commend highly enough the doctors and health professionals and all those who were involved.

"We have funds left over for his treatment and we're probably going to give these to charities which are related, such as brain tumour research, Marie Curie and the hospice - a lot of people have been there for us," Nuala said.

Robbie's funeral took place on Monday at St Patrick's Church, Ballinderry.

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