There weren’t many things I liked about my job in the chicken factory, but my boss Johnny was definitely one of them.
Five years older than me, with thick brown wavy hair and a huge smile, it was hard not to be happy when he was around.
Friends to start with, but in time we became a couple.
We both worked hard at the factory during the day but nights were spent listening to music and chilling out with our friends.
Years passed in a happy haze. While others settled down, got married and had kids, we remained blissfully happy just the two of us.
Hippies at heart, we enjoyed life at a slower pace, what was the point of rushing things?
‘We’ve got all the time in the world,’ we’d shrug when people asked when we were getting married and starting a family.
We’d been together four years when John proposed with a ring he’d bought at the Glastonbury festival.
‘Yes,’ I beamed as he slipped it on my finger.
But despite our engagement we still enjoyed life at a leisurely pace.
‘Plenty of time,’ I’d shrug when family and friends when they asked if we’d set a date yet.
‘If you two were any more laid back you’d be horizontal,’ people joked. And they were right.
It was another seven years before we even moved in together. Marriage and kids was definitely on the horizon, but I’d suffered with ovarian cysts as a teenager.
Surgery had left me with half on ovary and one fallopian tube meaning I’d need help to fall pregnant.
I guess deep down that’s why I was putting it off.
We still hadn’t got round to it when in November 2010 we both fell ill with rotten colds.
‘I just can’t seem to shift it,’ Johnny sniffed. He worked out every day, was usually so fit and well.
Doctors put it down to us both smoking.
But while my cold finally cleared a few weeks on, John’s seemed to get worse.
He was diagnosed with laryngitis, then tonsillitis. But antibiotics didn’t help.
In January 2011 he started a new job as a farm manager. But his chest was still tight and his body ached.
Now he spent evenings collapsed on the sofa exhausted.
Then a month on a lump appeared in his neck. A friend of ours had recently been treated for throat cancer.
I recognized the symptoms immediately, but as our friend had made a full recovery I didn’t fear the worst.
So I went to work as normal when John went for a biopsy at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital.
‘We’ll get through this together,’ I promised clasping his hands before he left.
But hours later my phone rang. For the first time in my life I heard John cry.
‘There’s a bigger tumour in my chest, it’s inoperable’ he wept. John explained the lump in his neck was secondary cancer. He was suffering with advanced lung cancer.
I raced home and paced the floor waiting for his car to pull up.
When he finally appeared in the doorway neither of us knew what to say so instead we just held each other and sobbed.
Once we’d felt like we had all the time in the world, now: ‘They said I’ve got between two and six months,’ he croaked.
He’d been offered chemotherapy and radiotherapy to try and extend the time we had left together. But I still refused to believe my Johnny could die.
‘You can beat this,’ I urged, pinning my hopes on new medical trials. But he’d have to finish the chemo and radio first.
One week before he started treatment we had a meeting with his consultant.
‘I want to leave a sperm sample for Karen,’ Johnny said.
I was shocked at first. We hadn’t even discussed it.
‘ I still want you to have our baby, just like we planned,’ he told me later. I nodded as tears rolled down my face.
There were lots of legal documents to sign to ensure I could use the sample even the event of John’s death.
But I prayed it wouldn’t come to that. I hoped I would fall pregnant before John got too poorly.
As he started cancer treatment, I began fertility treatment.
John was too ill to attend any appointments with me, but I told him all about them after.
As I begged him not to give up his fight, he made me promise not to stop trying for our baby.
It dawned on me that while I was still struggling to believe he would die, John had accepted his fate. All that mattered to him now was our future – mine and his baby’s.
Doctors had told us to make the most of the time we had left but the effects of the chemo made it impossible. His chocolate curls fell out in clumps and his strong shoulders sank back in pain.
More than anything I wanted John to know he was going to be a daddy before he died. But the clock was ticking.
Finally in September 2011 I was ready for egg collection.
But John’s condition was going downhill so fast he had been admitted to a hospice.
Two days later I went back for the embryos to be implanted.
‘Please let this work,’ I prayed.
But we’d have to wait two weeks to know if it had been a success or not.
Then one morning as I sat with John: ‘I guess this means we’ll never get married,’ he shrugged.
It gave me an idea. ‘ How easy is it to arrange a wedding in here ?,’ I asked one of his nurses.
A registrar was booked giving me just 24 hours to arrange our big day. John asked me to get him some new stripy pajamas to wear and his mum leant me a beautiful lace night dress to wear.
‘So we’ll both be in our jim jams on our wedding day,’ I told him and he smiled.
The following day family and friends gathered at the hospice for our ceremony.
John managed to climb into a wheelchair for the ceremony. Finally 15 years after our engagement we were man and wife at last. But I knew we didn’t have long.
Staff arranged a private room for us to stay together for our ‘honeymoon.’
One week later he passed away.
Numbed with grief, it was impossible to feel any more pain when just two days after John died I learned the IVF had failed.
I’d lost the man I loved and both of our hopes and dreams for the future. But when I went to visit him in the chapel of rest.
‘I won’t give up on having our baby,’ I promised.
Three weeks after he died John was cremated. I chose a cardboard coffin painted with rockets and stars and played the Star Wars theme tune. It was what he wanted.
He’d also told me to scatter his ashes at the stone circles and other places we visited together, but I couldn’t bear to be parted from him.
So instead I planted an oak tree with a tiny scoop of his ashes.
Only one thing kept me going. My promise to John to have our baby. So months later I started my second round of IVF on the NHS.
This time I took John with me in his urn. ‘My husband is in here,’ I told nurses as I patted my handbag containing his ashes.
Thankfully they understood why it meant so much to me to have him there with me.
But weeks later I learned it had failed again. But I wasn’t ready to give up so in time I started my final cycle on the NHS.
Like before I took John with me to each appointment. But there was more disappointment. I wasn’t sure I could take anymore.
But then earlier this year with the second anniversary of John’s death approaching: ‘I’ll have one more go babe,’ I told him.
Using savings he’d left me I began a private course of treatment but staff warned me I’d be wasting my money.
‘You are so close to menopause the quality of your eggs will be very poor,’ I was told. The chance of success was just one in one hundred.
But I’d made a promise to John and I was determined to keep it. Only then my period didn’t arrive and I feared that my menopause had started meaning I wouldn’t produce any eggs. ‘ I’ll never have our baby now,’ I fretted.
While I waited I concentrated on doing everything I could to get into a positive state of mind.
I even contacted a woman I heard did fertility spells. Sam Bennett’s had helped her best friend fall pregnant. ‘ I’ll try anything,’ I told her as she explained I had to make a doll.
Weeks later she sent me a spell to out inside.
Every night I repeated the chant Sam had told me and every night I prayed that I would finally be able to fulfill my promise to John to make him a dad.
I sagged with relief when my period arrived meaning treatment could start at last. I knew it was my last chance but at the same time I just had a good feeling it might work…
An egg was harvested and fertilized using John’s sperm. Days later it was implanted.
Two weeks later I carried his urn into the bathroom along with a pregnancy test. ‘ It’s positive, we’ve done it,’ I whopped as the line turned a heavy blue.
Scans at six weeks and ten weeks have shown our baby is developing well and yes I’ve even taken John to those too.
Because now two years after he died his child is growing inside me. Not only have I kept my promise to the man I love, I also feel like I’ve got part of him back.