I want to marry the love of my life before I die - terminally ill Willie Turner's heart-rending bucket list
A brave Portadown dad who has been given just months to live has expressed his heartfelt gratitude to his local community who have set up a fund to help grant his final wish.
Well-known local swimming instructor Willie Turner (42) has only two things on his bucket list after being diagnosed in August with terminal lung cancer - to marry the love of his life, fiancée Lyndsey Browne (35), and then enjoy a honeymoon with their children.
Willie said: "My doctor told me it is about building memories now and I would love to marry Lyndsey and be able to take the kids on their first holiday abroad which would be memories for them that will last."
A Wish For Willie has been set up by friends in Portadown and already over £2,000 has been raised towards a target of £6,000.
The couple want a simple wedding and then hope to spend some quality time with their children in the sun.
In another tragic twist Lyndsey revealed how they had endured four miscarriages before having their two boys Bobby (17 months) and Freddie (six months) who will now grow up without their father.
Willie has also been a devoted dad to Lyndsey's two boys by a previous marriage, Luke (11) and Jake (10), and has a 12-year-old daughter of his own, Karson (12).
To realise his dream, however, is a race against time for Willie who wants to be well enough to enjoy his wedding and what could be his first and final holiday abroad with his children.
In an emotive interview, both Willie and Lyndsey told the Belfast Telegraph of their heartache and disbelief that their life together could be so cruelly cut short.
Clearly madly in love with each other, the couple are still stunned that after only four years together and with a young family to raise, their happiness has been shattered.
They also revealed how the diagnosis was a double blow for Willie who had bravely fought cancer before and after 15 years in remission had never expected it to return.
The couple are remaining as strong as possible for the sake of their children and both are making the most of every day as they vow to battle on even though the odds are stacked against them.
Lyndsey says: "I don't know how Willie copes to be honest. He is so unbelievably strong and he gets through every day.
"I'm trying, but it is hard. You have to make the most of it. I tell myself he could have been taken in a car accident and that I have to make the most of every day that I have with him but it is hard going. You have to try not to think past the day to what the future will hold.
"They told us the average prognosis is 12-18 months, the way I look at it is that Willie is not average - he is young and he is fit and he is hoping to beat it."
The couple got engaged when Willie proposed a year ago at Halloween and had not yet set a date for their wedding.
After his diagnosis Lyndsey asked Willie what would be on his bucket list and was both surprised and delighted when he said he just wanted to make her his wife.
Now Lyndsey is going through a divorce from her first husband so that they can get married as soon as possible.
She describes Willie as her soul mate and says of him: "He is my best friend, the person I thought I would grow old with. He is a brilliant dad; he is a whole lot of things.
"I never thought I would ever marry again but as I fell in love with Willie I knew I would marry him. Now we are living not knowing if everything is our last - have we just gone through our last autumn together?
"Will this be our last winter, our last Christmas?
"We have to try and not think that way but it is not easy."
Willie was diagnosed on August 7 with Adenocarcinoma -cancer of the lung lining.
He was told that the condition was terminal and has been undergoing chemotherapy to try and stop its progress.
He has just finished his third course of chemo and is due to be given a scan to determine if the treatment has been effective. If not he has been told that there will be no point in continuing it.
The chemo will not cure the cancer but it is hoped it will slow it down and although he has been told that he has between 12 and 18 months to live, Willie is determined to fight and not accept that his life is due to end so soon.
He says: "It is hard to hear it twice. I went through it once before 15 years ago when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma of the throat. I had four months of chemo and 22 sessions of radiotherapy and at one point I was going to give up on the treatment.
"The consultant told me if I didn't fight it then I wouldn't beat it and I fought it and now I am going to fight this too.
"My goal is to see my boys into primary school and then I am going to be greedy and want to see them into secondary school. I want to prove the doctors wrong.
"Denial is a great thing. Just looking at the boys and thinking about everyone round me - my daughter, my mum, my three sisters and Lyndsey - I have to fight it, yet I can't help worrying about what will happen to them. That upsets me and I try not to think about it."
Willie very reluctantly had to leave his work as a self-employed swimming instructor after his diagnosis. That in itself was a blow as he was a dedicated teacher who loved his job and has taught thousands of Northern Ireland youngsters to swim.
He says: "I am a great believer in finishing what you started and walking away from the kids was really hard and they got me through a lot at the start. I found myself apologising to their parents on Facebook and that's what it is like with Lyndsey as well. We got engaged to be married not because I was sick but because I loved her.
"I want to see that through and I wanted to be sure it was what she wants too and not just because I am sick. Things have just been pushed up the ladder a bit and I would love to do it while I'm fit enough."
While they struggle to come to terms with the terrible blow fate has dealt them, the fund set up to make Willie's wish come true has given them something to look forward to.
The couple hope to be able to marry in the New Year and Lyndsey is happy to organise a simple ceremony with friends and family.
Their honeymoon abroad with their children will be the icing on the cake for both of them but especially for Willie.
He says: "My GP told me that my life is about making memories now and that's what we are trying to do.
"It is amazing that our friends have set up the fund and it will be unbelievable to take the children away and give them memories which will definitely stick.
"It means everything to me. I did five years in the navy and have lived my life and don't have a bucket list - just a wish to give my family this treat and marry the woman I love."
The time away also means so much because of the tough battle they had to get their two boys.
Lyndsey suffered four miscarriages before she had Bobby.
She left work as the manager of a card shop when she got pregnant with Bobby as she wanted to give her baby every chance. It is for this reason that she and Willie have been unable to afford a holiday abroad.
Now that Willie has had to leave his job because of his illness the idea of going away somewhere special with their children was never going to happen until their friends stepped in and launched their fundraising campaign.
Lyndsey says: "I worked about 70-80 hours a week and always supported my boys when I was on my own with them.
"The miscarriages were hard and we each dealt with it in our own way. I think as a woman it hits you harder because you feel that you are faulty in some way.
"About six months after we had Bobby we decided to try again as I wanted him to have a playmate and I got pregnant right away with Freddie."
Their life seemed complete until Willie started to suffer ongoing chest infections earlier this year.
When several courses of antibiotics didn't impact on the infections he was sent for tests but never once could he have guessed what lay ahead.
Now, despite facing an uncertain future when he might never get the chance to grow old with his soulmate and see his children grow up, this remarkable man is thinking of those who will be left behind.
He says: "It is easy for me in some ways because I know the outcome; it is the people around me I worry about more than anything.
"It is not going to hurt me after it happens but they have to live with it. You do get bad days and good days and every day counts and we are just trying to spend it with our boys."
Talking about Lyndsey he calls her "the woman of my dreams".
He says: "When I found Lyndsey I found the perfect partner. People say about finding the perfect person and I really have.
"She has a heart of gold, words can't even describe what I think of her, and she is everything that anyone could ever ask for. She has a heart like an angel and is so loving.
"That's what is hard to take, the fact that I found the best thing that ever happened to me and it is being taken away from me.
"That's hard to cope with."
The clock is ticking for this devoted couple and if you want to help ensure that Willie realises his dream you can support his fund at: https://de.gofund.me/3v6xmruw