Four years ago John and Helen Davy seemed to have the perfect life. They had good jobs, two gorgeous girls and the future looked bright.
But then John suffered a fatal blood clot on his heart and died aged just 37, leaving his widow Helen to care for daughters Annalise and Kairen, who were just four and two at the time.
Helen, from Thurcroft near Rotherham dug deep and stayed strong for her girls, building a new life for the 'Three Musketeers’, as she described them. But now Helen has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, leaving her with the knowledge that her daughters, now eight and six, will be orphaned.
“My first thoughts weren’t for me but for my girls and what was going to happen to them,” says 44-year-old IT technician Helen, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer on John’s birthday after it spread from her appendix.
“It was a cruel irony as John worked for Public Health England and he was the programme manager for bowel cancer screening.”
John had been diagnosed with a rare condition that causes blood clots when he was 18. He was on medication but Helen says it had an effect on his self-esteem.
“He knew it was a serious condition, but not how serious. Just days before he died he was on a train back from London with work and all seemed fine. But then he complained of being really tired. He wasn’t one to complain and in the morning he said he was fine to go to work, but I took one look at him and dialled 111.”
An ambulance took John to hospital but in the early hours of the morning he died.
“There were so many people at his funeral,” recalls Helen. “Everyone was so supportive.”
And now those friends are coming to her aid once again.
Work colleagues at Origin Broadband have rallied round and friends have set up a Go Fund Me appeal to try to ensure some financial security for her girls.
“My first thought was to put the house on the market as I have no savings, but then I decided that I wanted to keep as much normality as possible for the girls. We have had some legal issues within the family about what will happen to Annalise and Kairen but they are going to go and live with my twin sister, which hopefully will mean they can stay at the same school where they have lots of support.
"The situation has brought out the worst and best in people. Complete strangers have been so kind giving things for the girls so that we can keep making memories for as long as possible. Friends like Paul and Lesley Keeton who set up the fundraising page have been amazing, without even having to ask. And Origin Broadband have been so supportive, I can’t thank them enough. I have just found out that my MD’s wife died of the same cancer I have and he has been so supportive and offered to help in anyway he can.”
Neighbours Paul, Lesley, Joanne Shaw and Becky Lee set up the Go Fund Me page after being moved by the family’s plight.
“Helen has stood strong and done a fabulous job of parenting whilst keeping her trademark smile and positive attitude throughout. Recently she has shown the courage and determination I can’t comprehend,” says Paul.
“Feeling worthless and unable to make this better, we have decided to set up the page as some way of showing our love and support to our dear friend and her wonderful children.”
Paul is also doing some fundraising himself, running a 5k every day for four weeks ending in a big fun day on August 1 near Helen’s Thurcroft home.
Within hours of setting up the page the target of £1,000 had been smashed and it now stands just short of £10,000.
“All the money will go to the girls and their futures,” says Helen. “I don’t want to take them on some lavish holiday abroad, to me it is about having fun while we can and that doesn’t cost a fortune. We have a kitchen disco every Saturday and we are planning to go to Butlins as I sometimes struggle to do things due to the pain. I am also making some memory boxes for them.”
Helen started to feel unwell about a year ago. “I got a limp and had terrible stomach ache. I went backwards and forwards to the doctors and although they thought it might be my appendix they didn’t take it any further.”
But a couple of months ago she started having excruciating pains in her stomach and she was referred to hospital where scans revealed she had cancer, that it had spread from her appendix and was incurable.
“They told me it was terminal. I am angry as I do wonder what the outcome would have been if it had been spotted and treated sooner.”
Helen is starting chemotherapy soon, which she hopes will give her more time with her young daughters who are also being supported by Sunbeams at Rotherham Hospice.
“The girls are doing remarkably well considering everything. I need to be honest with them about what is happening but I want to do it with advice from people who know while keeping life as normal as possible for them.
“I ask them if they have any questions but they are still quite young and I am not going anywhere yet.”
Helen says although her prognosis is gloomy she is determined to stay strong.
“I am not a ‘boo hoo’ type person anyway and although I do have the odd moment when the girls have gone to bed it isn’t as often as you may think.
“I like to think of myself as being strong despite being only five feet tall and six and a half stone. I am determined to make it to Christmas and I will keep fighting as long as I can.”
In the meantime Helen and her two daughters will continue to make as many memories as possible - and above all have fun.
To donate to the Go Fund Me appeal, click here.
What is PMP? The rare cancer Helen Davy has been diagnosed with
Pseudomyxoma peritonei (PMP) is a rare cancer that often grows slowly.
It usually starts in the appendix.
It is not known what causes PMP.
PMP can spread from the appendix (or wherever it started) into the abdomen.
It is more common in women than men.
It can be difficult to diagnose PMP. Doctors sometimes find it by accident during treatment for other conditions.