Bridgette, Nick's mother, tells his story.
Nick, my handsome, caring, compassionate, loving, talented, creative and oh so funny son died peacefully in Spain with his devoted girlfriend Gemma by his side.
He had been diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma only 6 days before his death and after just 56 days in hospital receiving intensive radiotherapy, a half dose of chemo, blood/platelets, protein replacements, other various painkilling drugs/supplements and massive amounts of morphine.
I received a call from Gemma on the morning of the 25th June to say Nick was having breathing difficulties and could we come NOW. I was so concerned about the state of Gemma and making sure she had support on the way, I regret that I didn't think straight enough to ask her to take the phone to Nick. It is something that will haunt me forever that, although he was drifting in and out of consciousness, I didn't 'speak' to my son, tell him to be brave, that I loved him, that we all loved him and we were on our way. I, Nick's Godmother, his brother and sister travelled immediately, flights were available, car hire was successful on landing in Spain but despite all this, Nick passed away less than an hour before we could reach the hospital. We were distraught but in hindsight now I feel that this was better for Nick. A few months prior, we had sat in a hospital room with his very poorly Grandma, she too dying of a rapid onset of cancer. Although it was what my Mum had wanted, he was very uncomfortable with everyone sitting around her bed after she had lapsed into unconsciousness 'waiting'. Ironically the poor boy was watching his Grandma in the last days of Pancreatic Cancer completely unaware he too had cancer ravaging his body. His 'bad back' caused me enough concern to take him down to A&E that night, who merely gave him painkillers and told him to go to his own doctor in Spain.
This back pain was first thought to be muscular strain, then in the early months of 2009, Sciatica, a slipped disc and then a herniated slipped disc. MRI scans and x-rays apparently didn't show anything so he tried to carry on with painkillers and a Chiropractor. It is now thought that the Chiropractor's manipulations may have helped the tumour to 'break' and the cancer cells spread rapidly into his blood and lymph system. Nick enjoyed running and keeping fit. He would frequently run to and from work, a good few miles each time. This could now be what aggravated the weakness on his hip/pelvis where the first tumour grew. After weeks of acute discomfort and then some time confined to bed, Nick phoned me from Spain on the 26th April, a Sunday evening, unable to move, crying from the pain. I felt totally helpless. I suggested he call friends but he said they were all busy, he didn't want to call an ambulance (I realise now he was too scared at the time) and said he thought everyone would say it was a bit over the top, that he was exaggerating, so I made him promise to go to the hospital A&E the next day instead of his Chiropractor appointment. I spoke to him later that night, he was feeling more comfortable with painkillers but still desperately in pain but by then his girlfriend had returned home and another friend was with him, he sounded ' less alone' with the company and calmed by having someone there to help him. Nick did as he promised and went to hospital that following day. He entered Denia Hospital via A&E on Monday the 27th April with his Spanish friend for translation and he never went home again, (other than a short weekend respite from hospital to spend time with his friends visiting from the UK before specialists moved him to a top Oncology Hospital in Valencia on the 1st June). Doctors have told me his care was 'palliative' at that stage.
Denia Hospital 27th April/1st June 2009
Arnau de Vilanova Hospital, Valencia. 1st/25th June 2009
Pain management took a few days and tests were done immediately, results were quick and on the 30th April revealed that the biopsy on the 'herniated disc' was in fact a tumour and was confirmed as cancerous. The shock for me was unbelievable but to Nick must have been devastating. He remained upbeat and positive, refused to know what he 'had' but said was going to put his faith in the doctors to make him better and 'do what they have to do'. He remained courageous and held such incredible dignity through it all. He was famous among the nurses for his sense of humour and his cartoon hero underpants! I am so very proud of my son who must have been so scared but was, as always, either on the phone or during my visits to see him, concerned how everyone else was coping. At first he didn't want too many people knowing but once an aggressive cancer had been diagnosed he asked me to let relatives know. Further test results were not good and bless him, he appeared not to fully understand and I never told him what they all meant but I am sure he 'felt' his diagnosis. Metastases was taking place rapidly, the primary tumour had spread to the spine, shoulder pain 2 weeks later revealed further tumours and blood tests showed cancer within the Lymph System. I tried to answer his questions as lightly as possible.
The nurses loved him and I doubt if he ever complained about his care and his very painful and debilitating treatments. Gemma remained with him 24/7. Translation was often a problem and I now know this led to some misunderstandings regarding treatments. He phoned the night before his first radiotherapy quite worried about how painful it would be. I was able to explain it wasn't painful, just like a big x-ray but not anywhere near what he thought it would be. I realise how little medical knowledge Nick had but was so glad I could put his and Gemma's minds to rest even if I did sometimes evade the truth. With Nick being quite a worrier anyway, this type of situation arose a few times and although not wanting to know what he had, he also could have had treatments explained to him. The representatives of the hospital chaplaincy, who could mediate between Nick and whatever he needed and the Spanish version of Macmillan, sadly, were refused on his behalf. It was very difficult for everyone in the UK to comply with what Nick had said he wanted, while we knew that these people could help support him and have advised on all aspects of his hospital stay, treatment and the aims for recovery. These specialists were there for both good and bad, could have added an extra neutral support for him and his girlfriend, but the reality of the situation wouldn't have allowed such young people to see this. Gemma did a sterling job however with what we now refer to as 'Spanglish!' Nick said to me 'I don't want to know what I've got. I just want them to do everything to make me better'.
Having sought further advice I have since been told that Nick wasn't ill long enough for the realisation to fully register, the word cancer is too alarming and denial is very common at such a young age. At that time no-one, not even the doctors knew what he had, other than they had told me it was aggressive and very rare. Going behind Nick's back to follow his illness and treatment was horrible but I wanted to be 'ahead of the game'. It was noted that I had the same blood group as my son and that screening for bone marrow donation was a possibility from me or his younger brother. Sadly Nick's cancer was so aggressive that this possibility didn't even reach the test stage. My son and I are remaining on the blood and marrow donor list and will not hesitate to donate if required.
Nick eventually limited his visitors after having had such a great weekend visit from his 4 best friends from the UK, who stayed in his hospital room all night, had a meal with him when doctors arranged for Nick to go back to the villa for a short 'parole' and generally enjoyed a great time with them. He refused to let them visit again telling me 'I want to remember the lads that way'. Nick knew he wouldn't see them again. My last visit to him was after he had been moved to the specialist unit in Valencia under barrier nursing conditions. Masks disguised our faces in particular his shockingly thin, drawn and very poorly face but his eyes were smiling, especially when his little brother's way of leaving him was to a put his fist to his heart, show a victory sign and say 'Peace out Bro'!! I couldn't hug my son but had to rub his big toe over the bed sheet. I didn't see or touch him again until I had a private 10 minutes before his cremation. When leaving him on the 3rd of June I made a conservative effort not to say 'Goodbye' as we left that day, I wanted so much to wave a magic wand, turn back time, wake up from the nightmare but I had such a bad feeling, badly trying to cover this with jovial banter and rubbish jokes. I made so many deals with God to save my son. Going home to the UK was heartbreaking; I tried so hard to believe Nick would recover but something inside me was telling me 'No'. There was a desolate place somewhere inside that kept over-riding my attempts to be positive. I fought it with all my heart. The maternal bond is incredible and I have since been told by various people, from all walks of life that there is nothing in this world, for a mother, that compares to the loss of her child, no matter what age the child is and the 'connection' is unexplainable. Something I had taken for granted in the past.
Two weeks later, 6 days before Nick died we knew it was Ewing sarcoma. Having researched it on line I discovered a cruel and heartless disease that takes no prisoners and then speaking to the doctors, was in shock at the little or no information regarding discovery, treatment and cure there is for this rare cancer. Research is essential. I sincerely hope Nick was not told the full extent of the diagnosis, not knowing what Ewing sarcoma actually was, that he may have had the potential for this particular cancer from birth, through his childhood and whilst he was so happy and healthy, erupting so quickly taking the life and soul out of such a lovely human being. But, thinking back when I first had time alone with him in his hospital room in the early stages on May 12th he made me promise to go home and make sure I got his brother, sister and cousins tested. He didn't want them to 'have the same thing as him' and I played this off as 'Don't be daft Nick, don't worry about that sort of thing, you must concentrate on yourself and not worry about anything or anyone else' Looking back on his concerns, did he know deep within himself then or had he put two and two together when his consultant had asked for family history, whether he had siblings, cancer in the family but who then went on to mention the words 'aggressive' and 'a type of Leukaemia'.
We visited immediately again at the end of May when doctors said he was too ill for Chemo but without it he would die within days. Nick wanted to try everything and had a half dose of chemo days before we arrived on the 28th May. He tolerated it well and it gave him those few extra weeks. When transferred to the specialist hospital his hopes rose, but, sadly after doctors were putting him off with waiting for 'tests results' to confirm compatibility for further Chemo, and not committing to a date, I started to really get scared. Contact was limited at the hospital. A charity called HELP, were amazing and liaised for me. Nick by that time was so very ill he finally, I felt, knew his time was limited anyway. Just a few days before he died I received a text telling me he loved me and I wasn't to worry. I will keep it forever. When I was told a few days before his death that he had lost all feeling from his ribs down I made the terrible mistake of researching what this meant. It was the Monday evening when I read that this was one of the last stages of the progression of Ewing's. I was making arrangements to go out again when the dreaded call came from Gemma 3 days later on the Thursday morning. I was fortunate and so grateful for the time I had with my son and the private phone calls we shared, he spoke to me in a way he had never done before and I shall treasure his words. I now have a tattoo of a star with his initial in it on the inside of my right forearm where he too had one for me. He had one each for his brother and sister on his shoulders too. It is a promise I have kept to my son and 4 of his childhood friends have had similar tattoos. I often think about how unfair life has been, Nick had always been such a survivor...
After a troublesome pregnancy and the earlier loss of his twin, Nick was born at 6.45pm by emergency caesarean section weighing just 5lb 140z. Tiny and blond haired he grew to become a strapping 6'2". He had a growth spurt in his early teens which appears to be a common factor of Ewing's sarcoma sufferers. Despite all the obstacles life dealt him, Nick grew to be the handsome chap we see in the photos, brave, courageous and forgiving to most. He suffered hurt and pain both physically and mentally but rose above it all to become a fabulous young man. Not once was there any indication or evidence that he may have been born with a genetic pre-disposition cancer that would take his life so mercilessly. In his teens it was decided he did in fact have a learning difficulty in the form of mild Dyslexia which explained his difficulty in concentration and ability with academic subjects. He was however very creative, a family trait inherited especially from his maternal Grandma. These talents became obvious as a young child, artistically gifted with sketching and artwork, but when combined with his love of cooking, (also gained as a child) he became very creative with his recipes. He worked hard at college and trained further with the Hilton group, worked on other restaurant and pub ventures finally settling in Spain, still keen on gaining the experience to become the very talented chef that we knew and loved. As a child he was diagnosed hyperactive caused by food colours, the dreaded 'E' numbers! Possibly due to this activity and inability to sleep for more than 4 hours a night (!) he suffered from abdominal migraines that floored him for 24/48 hours every 4 or 5 weeks. Literally out for the count but then suddenly up and running about as normal, almost recharged! Climbing trees was a favourite hobby, a large mountain ash in the garden and especially at bedtime, refusing to come down!
At the age of 3 he was hospitalised with an acute gastro-enteritis complicated by the discovery of a condition that would always react badly with similar bacterial or viral stomach complaints. An allergy to fish and seafood was also diagnosed, which was such a shame as he loved Fish Fingers! He and I were isolated in a room for 4 days and although very poorly and so young, never complained once. Nurses were amazed at his strength and bravery, always raising a weak but genuine smile and this was later to be reiterated by nurses in Spain whilst he became weaker and in more pain but never losing his faith in the medical team looking after him.
When Nick was nearly 4 years old he became a brother for the first time to his sister Hannah. When he was 17, taking us all by surprise, his little brother Richard arrived! Nick was the most adored and loved 'big brother' to them both. He was and still remains an excellent role model to them. Both Nick and Hannah are Godparents to their younger brother. Nick had also proudly taken on the role of legal guardian to Richard in the event of my demise.
During his school years he gained his nickname 'Baz'. Adapted from his middle name, Basil, a tribute to his paternal Grandad with whom Nick shared a birthday. He was so embarrassed by that name until his friends invented a cooler version of it and the 'Baz-Meister' was born!
His younger brother now age 12 is known as 'little Baz' by those same lovely friends. A lifelong tribute goes out to those friends who, from the age of 10, supported Nick through some difficult times, enjoying life, growing up, complementing Nick's amazing sense of humour having many, many laughs with him but then finding themselves supporting Gemma and Nick's family, ensuring that the wishes of their friend were adhered to at his cremation service. They kitted themselves and 'little Baz' out in Hawaiian shirts, shorts and straw hats as per Nick's instructions. He had a simple coffin draped with his beloved Portsmouth F.C flag and team shirt. Nick had a very colourful 'good-bye' and so fitting for such a fun loving man. Those unhappy but smiling boys then sang loudly 'One more step along the world I go' having only learnt the words the night before. Harry Potter, Foo Fighters and Superman sound tracks were other essential pieces played!
Although absent at one time many years ago having raised them for years as a single parent, I have always encouraged within my children independence, opportunities to travel, see the world and gain confidence, knowledge, experience and most of all, to follow their dreams. Never should they assume they are unable to do something, so, when Nick's first attempt at working abroad in Lanzarote wasn't so good, it didn't put him off trying again 3 years later, moving to work and live in Spain with Gemma. He cared a lot for his small family, was anxious about leaving us but we were all behind him. He worked hard, played hard and most of all was truly happy in life. Nick has been referred to many times as a 'Legend'. Tributes from family, friends, colleagues and fellow restauranteurs in both Spain and the UK all say what a great guy he was, his compassion and generosity in both work and play, his enthusiasm and love of life, his passion for creative cooking, his good looks, his love for his family and his refusal to allow incidents from his past affect his future but especially his love of super-heroes and cider! I am, coincidently, writing this as one of his favourite films is being shown on television, Star Wars, Return of the Jedi. It is one of many childhood films that he would still watch with the same boyhood excitement even though a 'grown-up'! Films such as The Goonies, Star Wars, Spiderman and Superman, all favourites of Nick's that stand the test of time and it is painful knowing he won't watch them again, well at least not on earth anyway. His little brother has a love of the same types of films and tells me he will watch them all for Nick again and again.
When Nick was little, about 6 years old, he had a pair of Superman pyjamas with a little cape that he absolutely loved. He would put a pair of blue underpants on over the trousers and pretend to be Superman as you do when you're 6! We lived in a house with a 70' long garden. He called me one sunny day from his bedroom window whilst I was at the far end of the garden, he shouted he could fly and was climbing onto the windowsill! How I got to him I cannot remember but he certainly flew backwards when I grabbed the waist of his underpants to pull him inside!
This story is one of his little brother Richard's favourites when we talk about what kind of boy his big brother was when he was a child. Stories, tales and memories are in abundance and his sister, family, friends and I will be able to recount these and the 'legend' will live on.
Nick entrusted to me a character and storyline he had intended to turn into a novel, I shall endeavour to do this justice and complete the dream.
This Super-Baz photo is one we created for him whilst in hospital to cheer him up and remind him that we all thought he was a super-hero.
There is so much more to say about Nick but he was just too good for words, he was the last person on earth who deserved to die so unfairly, he will always be loved, missed desperately and forever in our hearts.
We love you Nick. Rest in peace.