Wife Michelle was the light of my life... that's why NI Hospice fundraiser is special
As the NI Hospice launches its Lights to Remember appeal, Mark Montgomery tells how he was helped through the dark days when his wife Michelle succumbed to cancer
Michelle was one of life's true fighters. She endured so much but she kept battling all the time.
Our daughter Eloise (9) was three when her mum was diagnosed with cancer and we used to say it was the three of us against the world – without her I would have given up long ago. When Michelle died on November 25, 2011, I was devastated and it really struck me as it was almost 10 years to the day when we first met.
Michelle (45) started having sinus problems in 2006. We never thought it would become anything major. But in 2007 a biopsy revealed it was cancer.
We were devastated but we always thought we would come out the other side. Despite multiple operations the tumour kept coming back, and in 2009 she endured six-and-a-half weeks of radiotherapy five days a week, which was really hard on her.
The tumour started to spread towards her brain and in March 2010 she underwent major surgery where her skull was opened up. Sadly, the tumour progressed to her optic nerve and Michelle lost the sight in her right eye.
She then had a course of chemotherapy which didn't work either. On Christmas Day she was admitted to hospital with a serious infection. The tumour had progressed quite a lot and by February 2011 we were told there was nothing more they could do.
We kept it quiet from Eloise because she was just six at the time. Michelle got gradually worse and was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital after waking up with excruciating head pain.
At around 2am Michelle phoned me in absolute distress – she had woken up blind. I can't imagine how terrifying that was for her. Following another round of chemotherapy Michelle took three massive epileptic fits in a row – I was told she was not coming back.
But in Michelle's true spirit she came around and even her sight briefly came back in her left eye. I saw her going downhill for the first time in July and that's when NI Hospice got involved.
Michelle was in Somerton Road Hospice for six weeks but she wanted to be back home for the last few weeks of her life, and if it hadn't been for the hospice she would never have been able to.
Her mental state completely changed, she was back to the old Michelle. She was always able to laugh throughout her illness.
Before she left the hospice they arranged our last night out together to the Ulster Orchestra in the Waterfront and, as far as it could be, it was just like a normal couple going out, and I will always remember it.
Michelle came home in October 2011 and a couple of weeks before she died she said to me it was time to let go. It's devastating to hear your wife say that.
The night Michelle passed away Eloise was fast asleep and a hospice nurse was here with me. I was very grateful for that. Eloise had kissed her mum goodnight and I told her the next morning. I've never heard a cry or a scream like it, nor would I want to ever again.
We talk about Michelle all the time and there are many photographs in our living room.
The first year I attended the lights event it was a few weeks after Michelle died, so it was really hard. But the crowd is unbelievable and it is great to know that you are not alone.
e As told to Claire Williamson
Mark Montgomery (42) is supporting this year's Northern Ireland Hospice Lights To Remember appeal in memory of his wife Michelle (45). The event celebrates the lives of loved ones, which are represented as lights, sponsored as gifts to support the charity. Every light sponsored helps fund services. The charity's target is £190,000. The service is on December 19 at 7pm in Dominican College, Fortwilliam, followed by a light procession to Somerton House Hospice.