Hunched over in pain as he pulled his boots on ready for work, I urged him to take the day off sick.
‘No I can’t do that,’ my fiance John said shaking his head.
I wasn’t surprised. In the 18 years we’d been together since meeting at work in a factory I couldn’t ever recall John taking a day off ill.
A farm manager, he was big and strong. He wasn’t one to let a cold get in his way and that was one of the things I loved about him.
We shared the same love of music and laid back attitude to life and I guess that’s why although we’d got engaged 15 years earlier, we’d never got round to getting married.
But this wasn’t like any other cold. Though we’d both gone down with it at the same time, mine had gone, while his seemed to be getting worse.
John had been back and forth to our GP and diagnosed with everything from tonsillitis to laryngitis.
Only one day a few weeks later he brushed his fingers against his neck and found a lump.
We knew someone who’d been diagnosed with cancer after finding a lump so this time he went straight to our GP.
Our friend had made a full recovery so I guess deep down neither of us were too concerned.
John insisted I went to work as a post woman while he was sent for a biopsy.
But hours later my phone rang. For the first time in my life I heard John cry.
‘It’s cancer. But they found another tumour in my chest.’ John broke down as he told me he was already in the final stages of lung cancer. The disease had spread and was inoperable.
I raced home and waited for him. When he got back we just held each other and cried.
‘I’ve got between two and six months Karen,’ he said.
But I refused to accept it. ‘We’ll find a cure,’ I croaked thinking about medical trials. But John’s consultant had advised chemotherapy and radiotherapy to try and extend his life.
I went with John at a meeting the following week ahead of treatment.
There the consultant explained the side effects of the treatment would leave John infertile.
‘I want to leave a sperm sample for Karen,’ he said. I was surprised, we hadn’t even discussed it but John was adamant.
‘I want you to have our baby just like we planned,’ he told me. I knew what John was telling me. He wanted me to have our baby with or without him.
He had come to terms with his fate and it was time for me to try and accept it too.
There was lots of legal work to be done first to ensure I could still use John’s sperm in the even of his death.
I hoped it would not come to that and desperately hoped I would fall pregnant while he was still alive.
But the odds were already against us. I’d have ovarian cysts as a teenager and surgery had left me with half an ovary and one fallopian tube.
So we agreed I would start fertility treatment immediately to improve our chances.
It began as John started chemotherapy.
Both procedures were gruelling but we did our best to support each other.
But John’s health was getting worse. His dark brown curls fell out in lumps and the drugs left him tired and confused.
I tried to keep his spirits up telling him about the IVF but soon he was admitted to a hospice.
‘This has to work,’ I told myself when finally an egg was implanted.
It would take two weeks to know if I was pregnant or not.
Back at the hospice John knew time was running out. ‘ I guess this means we’ll never get married,’ he said one day.
It gave me an idea and I asked the nurses for help.
Just two days later I arrived at the hospice with new pyjamas for John and a lace nightdress his mum leant me. ‘We are getting married today in our jim jams,’ I told him.
Family and friends gathered and John climbed out of bed into a wheelchair for the ceremony. It wasn’t how I imaged but I was so happy to be marrying John.
Instead of a honeymoon staff set up an extra bed in his room so we could be together. One week later aged 43 John died.
I didn’t think it was possible to feel any more pain until one week later my progeny test was negative.
I went to see John in the chapel and promised him I would not give up.
He was cremated in a cardboard coffin decorated with rockets and stars.
He’d asked me to scatter his ashes in places dear to us but I wasn’t ready to be parted from him so instead I put a scoop in with some soil and planted an oak tree.
Months alter I started my second round of IVF on the NHS. I took John’s urn with me to appointments. I wanted to feel close to him and the nurses understood.
But once again I didn’t fall pregnant.
This time the disappointment crushed me and despite my promise to John I didn’t feel strong enough to try again.
Time passed and as the second anniversary of his death approached I felt ready to try again.
This time I went to a private clinic. But the consultant warned me I was wasting my money. ‘You are 40 and your eggs are poor quality, your chances of getting pregnant are low. ‘
He put them at one in one hundred and urged me to reconsider but my mind was made up. I was determined to keep my promise to John.
I felt this was my last chance so I even contacted a woman who performed fertility spells and asked her to help. She told me to make a fertility doll and say a chant every night.
I had no idea if it would help but I was determined to try anything. Finally the egg was ready to be implanted. Two weeks later I took John’s ashes into the bathroom and took a test.
When the result appeared in the window I turned to his urn and said with a smile: ‘ We’ve done it.’ I was pregnant.
‘You’re going to be a dad,’ I beamed. When it was time for my first scan I took John with me. ‘There’s our baby,’ I told him as the image appeared on the screen.
In fact John was with me at all my appointments. It felt like a miracle, but at the same time I was terrified something would go wrong. I had lost John, once already, I couldn’t lose him and our baby again.
When I finally pushed our daughter into the world John’s ashes were with me.
When they placed her on me after all the pain melted away. She was gorgeous and with a mop of black hair and dark eyes she was the image of her father too.
It was like I had a piece of John back. ‘Meet your daughter,’ I wept turning to his urn next to the bed.
I’d been struggling to think of a name and one day weeks later it just came to me. ‘I’m calling her Johren,’ I told my mum. It was a combination of both of our names just like she was a combination of us.
I’ll make sure Johren knows all about her dad and how much he wanted her. I’ll always be heartbroken that he’s not here with us. Christmas was always hard without John.
But thanks to our amazing daughter it feels like I have part of him back.
In fact I never thought I could feel happier again.
But when she smiles her whole face smiles and it’s like John is with us.