ITVBe documentary: WAY member Debbie shares her husband’s brain cancer story

December 2022

WAY member Debbie, whose husband Steve was diagnosed with the same type of brain cancer as The Wanted singer Tom Parker, says she admires Tom’s widow Kelsey Parker for speaking out so publicly about his illness and the realities of life as a young widow.

Debbie's Story

Debbie and family

My husband Steve was diagnosed with Grade 4 glioblastoma – an aggressive type of cancer that can occur in the brain or spinal cord – in October 2021. This came out of nowhere.

I went away with work on a school residential trip in early October. When I arrived home, after an hour of being with Steve, I realised it was not my Steve. He seemed very withdrawn and was not communicating with me as much as he normally would.

Over the weekend, his behaviour was becoming weirder. He would not engage with the family and I noticed his hands were shaking when he was eating. He also seemed a lot more tired than usual. He was very confused and he had trouble with his thought processes. I also noticed he pulled strange facial expressions. Every time I asked Steve how he was feeling, he kept repeating himself saying “I’m fine, I’m fine”. 

Loads of thoughts were going round my mind: is he having a nervous breakdown, is he having early signs of dementia. I even thought at one point he was having an affair. 

I told him not to go to work on the Monday and to get a doctor’s appointment. Eventually, we took him into A&E and he was given a CT scan. At 5.20pm on Monday, 4 October we were told directly that Steve had brain cancer. This is when our lives changed very dramatically and suddenly. Even at this point, I don’t think Steve was fully aware what was going on. I just cried and hugged him and I remember he kept saying he was worried for me.

After Steve’s biopsy, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham confirmed our worst fears – Steve had a very aggressive form of brain cancer. This was inoperable and incurable – all they could offer Steve was two weeks of radiotherapy to reduce the size of the tumour. 

Two weeks after Steve completed the treatment, I knew he was deteriorating rapidly. His mobility was affected and he was exhausted. He celebrated his 51st birthday in his hospital bed downstairs with me and our daughter. A week later, on 4 February 2022, he sadly passed away at the local hospice. I was there and held his hand and told him how much I loved him and how we will always do him proud and I know he will always be with us.

Good days and bad days

Ten months later, honestly, I have good days and bad days. The hardest concept is that he has gone and I will never see him again. This is still so fresh and raw and it’s still so hard to process what we have gone through as a family. I miss him so much.

Our daughter Lexie has now started secondary school. She has settled in very well. We always talk and laugh and tell stories about Steve. Lexie has a very good support network and she knows who she can trust and talk to. Her outside passions have helped her to grieve for Steve. Any decisions that I have had to face, I always include Lexie. I was advised early on in this journey always be open and honest with her.

When the Tom Parker documentary Inside My Head aired last year, I chose not to watch it because it was on at the same time as Steve was diagnosed. I know my sister watched it and she told me she cried all the way through it so it was probably a good job I did not choose to watch it. I was still in shock that my husband of 17 years had just been diagnosed with the same type of cancer as Tom.

"When the news of Tom’s death was announced (four weeks after Steve’s death), I cried my eyes out. My heart went out to Kelsey and their children. I knew exactly what they were going through – a whole mixed bag of emotions."

I admire Kelsey for speaking very publicly about Tom’s condition through documentaries like Life After Tom – it’s great that she has now made people aware of glioblastoma and is raising money for brain cancer charities.

After Steve’s death, someone advised me to sign up to the peer support network WAY Widowed and Young. I suppose it’s a group no one really wants to belong to. When I received all the information, I parked this up as I felt I was not ready to join. Then in June I felt I was ready to officially sign up. 

I have met some other members at a local lunch and I attended a yoga weekend retreat that was organised by another WAY member and met other members who are on a similar grief journey. It is so refreshing to read about other people’s experiences of bereavement and how we all grieve differently. 

I have returned to work but have reduced my hours as my main focus is Lexie. There is not a day that I don’t think about Steve. We know we have poignant more firsts coming up – with Christmas, Steve’s birthday and the first anniversary of his death. It’s hard, but I know he would be so proud of me – and I am determined to keep making new memories for me and Lexie.

WAY are listed along with other support on ITV’s ‘Life After Tom’ resources page.