Frankie can't wait to marry terminally ill love of his life after easing of Covid-19 restrictions
The fiance of a Co Down woman fighting terminal cancer has told of his joy at being able to marry his partner after First Minister Arlene Foster announced that coronavirus restrictions were to be eased from next week.
Samantha Gamble (53) and Frankie Byrne (54) from Loughbrickland were planning on tying the knot on May 29, but the Covid-19 lockdown cruelly dashed their hopes.
After weeks of added stress and representations to Health Minister Robin Swann, the DUP and Sinn Fein, the couple, who have been together for 11 years, received good news yesterday when Mrs Foster announced that marriage ceremonies for the terminally ill would be allowed to go ahead from Monday.
After she was diagnosed with soft cell sarcoma 18 months ago, doctors told Samantha she had two years to live.
Since then, however, the cancer has spread to her lungs, neck and spine, leaving the future unclear.
Speaking to this newspaper last night, Frankie said he and Samantha were "absolutely chuffed" they could marry as soon as next week.
"It's a great relief for her because she had texted me and said, 'Frankie, we're not going to be able to do this'," he said.
"I told her not to give up hope, so we want to thank Samantha's cousin Vivienne.
"Vivienne did an awful lot of work by sending emails to councillors, the DUP, Sinn Fein and the Health Minister.
"I just really want to thank Vivienne for all the work she did and Brian Moss and Steven McQuitty from Worthington Solicitors."
Samantha is due to be released from Belfast City Hospital today after undergoing radiotherapy.
Plans are now in motion to hold the wedding ceremony in the couple's back garden next Friday.
"Samantha was in great form last night, but today has been a little bit of a setback for her (because) nothing has changed in the plans to let her out tomorrow," Frankie said.
"I just think this news has really perked her up a bit now.
"They gave Samantha two years to live with her lung cancer, but they weren't expecting the cancer to spread.
"It spread to the top of her spine and neck.
"She's in Belfast City Hospital at the minute, receiving a very, very high dose of radiotherapy."
Looking ahead to the marriage next Friday, Frankie said it would be a very "special day" for the couple and he was hugely excited to be marrying the love of his life.
"The registrar is just off the phone and once I explained we didn't want the ceremony in the house and we wanted to do it in the back garden, they were happy because we could get the social distancing in place," he added.
"They were under the impression we wanted it in the house.
"We're allowed up to six people at it.
"It will be myself and Samantha, the registrar and Samantha's two children Jessica and Stephen.
"My son would have been there too, but he's in Australia.
"It will be a very special day. This was planned about two years ago when we decided we would get married but we never set a date.
"When Samantha was diagnosed we thought we should set the date, so hopefully now it will be next Friday."