Val's Story

The widow of a hard-working husband, father and grandfather who died from lung cancer is backing Don’t Be The 1 to warn others of the devastating effects of smoking.

Val Fenton’s husband Keith, who’d smoked since he was a young man, died at his Appley Bridge near Wigan home just weeks after receiving his cancer diagnosis.

Val said: “Keith had a cough which we were always nagging him to go to the GP about, but I guess it was just bravado that he didn’t do anything about it.

“In early 2015 he’d started to feel quite poorly and one Thursday in April he just collapsed in the bathroom.”

A few short weeks later and Val and Keith were taken into a room at Wigan Royal Infirmary to be told that a large tumour had been found in Keith’s lungs and he was to be referred straight to The Christie for radiotherapy.

Unfortunately as Keith was so unwell the treatment was not effective. In July 2015 he came home and three days later he died with his family around him.

Val and Keith met when Keith worked for his family’s drapery firm and he’d dropped in to see a customer, Val’s mum.

The two dated for a few months and were married in 1967. Keith went on to work in management for many years at a large bakery, where he was well-known and well-regarded.

Val and Keith brought up two sons Keith and Tim together, and in more recent years welcomed two granddaughters Neve and Sophia, now teenagers, into the family.

Said Val: “Keith doted on his granddaughters and when they came round Neve would jump straight onto his knee and get cuddled up. She wouldn’t leave his side, and a few years ago the pair of them built a wooden fort out in the garage.

“Our other granddaughter Sophia does a lot of drama and is in productions that I’ll go and see. It’s such a shame Keith isn’t round to see them growing up and getting on with their lives, he’s missing so much.”

Keith smoked a pipe, but even though Val and his beloved granddaughters had begged him to stop he could only manage to quit for a few months at a time.

Said Val: “After he got the diagnosis he shut down, he wouldn’t talk about how he felt to me. But he did say to his cousin that he felt that it was his own fault, that I’d done everything I could to stop him smoking. It was an obsession to us to try and stop him and he used to laugh about it. But it’s not funny is it?

“After Keith died I saw a young girl of about 12 or 13 in the street with her friends smoking. I just had to tell her not to smoke anymore, that my husband had just died from cancer.

“I was like someone on a soap box, I felt so raw. I was treading carefully because she was so young but I bumped into her later on and she said she wasn’t going to smoke anymore. I was happy with that.”

Val, who herself survived breast cancer, runs Wigan Breast Cancer Survivors Group and is a big rugby league fan. But she misses Keith terribly and feels like there a hole in her life:

“It’s like you’re trying to keep busy, to get involved. But then you realise that your partner has gone, that your soul mate isn’t there anymore.”