My wife was told she was stressed – she died three days later, says Simon Thomas
WHEN Simon Thomas' wife Gemma started to experience headaches, GPs dismissed the symptoms.
Not letting up, the mum, 40, went to her local surgery three times, complaining of night sweats, bruising and fatigue.
In November 2017 she developed a bruise on her thigh and her headaches became severe.
She was told her symptoms could be stress related but was later rushed to A&E.
Gemma died three days later after being diagnosed with AML.
Adult acute myeloid leukemia is a very rare blood cancer.
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Dad-of-one Simon said: "Blood cancer is the fifth most common cancer and the third biggest cause of cancer deaths.
"It takes 15,000 lives a year, pretty much 40 every day."
The TV pundit is currently promoting a competition in aid of Blood Cancer UK for one lucky winner to bag a £3 million house in Cornwall, but he’s quick to promise he won’t be entering himself.
"I think someone would smell a rat if I entered and won," he laughs.
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The comparatively small charity is exceptionally close to his heart.
Tragically, Simon’s wife Gemma died before the family could be supported by Blood Cancer UK, but it remains a cause he cares about. "People know the symptoms of breast cancer, " he says.
"If you go to pretty much any football ground across the UK there are signs in the men’s loos talking about prostate cancer, but I bet if I went onto my local high street right now, no one would know the symptoms for blood cancer."
Having had counselling for two years to help him deal with his wife’s death, Simon also made sure their son Ethan, 12, had the support he so desperately needed.
"We both benefited from having people to talk to and we both spent two years working with our individual counsellors," admits Simon candidly.
‘Ethan’s counsellor was an amazing guy called Colin. He’s an actor as well as a counsellor and we’d seen him in a McDonald’s advert, but the other week I was watching the John Darwin Canoe Man drama and he was in that.
"I showed Ethan the following morning and we both loved seeing him."
What are the blood cancer symptoms you need to know?
Common signs of blood cancer include:
- Tiredness, breathlessness, paleness.
- Unexplained rash, bruising or bleeding.
- Infections or unexplained fever.
- Lumps and swellings.
- Bone pain.
- Drenching night sweats.
- Itchy skin.
- Unexplained weight loss.
After finishing he counselling, Ethan has gone on to raise funds for Grief Encounter – the charity who helped the pair navigate their way through their trauma.
Meanwhile Simon’s support of Blood Cancer UK isn’t the only way he’s helping others who have found themselves in a similar position of heartbreak.
"I’ve always thought about Ethan more than about myself," says Simon.
"But inevitably when you go through what we have in public, people in a similar position message you and ask for your help or want to share their story.
"I get so many messages and I think when you are in the public eye and open up about grief – or something that people find difficult to vocalise – people find a lot of solace in that.
"I think there's almost that undeclared permission that people reach out and tell me their story.
"People will tell me some really heartbreaking stuff, but I’ve learned I have to be quite wary. It's not about not caring, but can I take home the stories I’m hearing? Can I take on others' trauma?"
Home has changed for the dad of one – he and Ethan moved from house they shared as a family of three into a different house not far away and location isn’t the only change they’ve seen as a pair since losing Gemma.
STAND WITH UKRAINE
Simon remarried in July last year, his wife Derrina Jebb is a lawyer and while the new family of three have come through grief, a pandemic, a house move and the loss of Simon’s beloved father during Covid in 2020, they’d be forgiven for shutting their doors and trying to process what they’ve been through, but instead they’re on a waiting list to house a Ukrainian family.
"Ethan was taught not to take things for granted in a very painful way four years ago," says Simon.
"He understands people or things are not always here forever. He knows we’re blessed to live in a lovely house and enjoy lots of things. When we were talking about it, I said: “Imagine it’s happening here.
"Imagine you had to leave everything and you've got to head down to the coast, to Dover. Hopefully get on a ferry to wherever it's safe, where there's no planes attacking you.
"Imagine living in a house with total strangers and worrying about me back here. That is what is happening to these people in Ukraine.
"They're having to flee their homes, their lives are turned on their heads overnight.
"I think because of what he's been through, he get’s it. His experience is different in some ways but the same in others. He understands lives being turned upside down so he’s been really keen to help."
While their wait continues, May has been a long month for Ethan, end of term tests and Gemma’s birthday are both this month and while Gemma doesn’t have a grave in a graveyard for Simon and Ethan to visit, she has a special place both can go to remember her.
"Our old house was by the River Thames," says Simon.
"There was some communal land down by the river outside of our garden.
"I knew I was going to move after what happened but I wanted something, somewhere, Ethan could come back to for his own memories as the years passed.
"I didn't I didn't want a grave and a graveyard because that's just not for us. But back in May 2018, we planted a tree on her birthday and put a little plaque at the bottom of it.
"I always say, if anyone else asked me for advice on this kind of area, the most important thing with any child who's gone through this is giving him permission and space to talk about his mum if he wants to, and if he doesn’t that’s fine too.
"He’s had to develop a level of emotional maturity that his peers wouldn't necessarily have at that age. He has an emotional intellect beyond boys and girls at this age because he's had to do a lot of growing up."
After a busy few months both Simon and Ethan are looking forward to the end of term and some down time.
Simon’s been working for the BBC, Amazon and Sky Sports News in recent weeks and while his schedule is anything but quiet, he, along with millions of other have found the time to keep up with Partygate and after being vocal on his Twitter feed about the state of the nation’s politics, he says he’s considered public office himself.
"A couple of my friends in the last year or so have suggested I run in some capacity. I’ve thought about it but right now I haven’t done anything more than think, but one or two people have said it to me.
"The only way to change the culture of what’s happening is by putting your cross in the ballot box or getting involved isn’t it?
"I care about people and I’ve found the last few months politically really difficult because I lost my dad during the pandemic.
"It wasn't Covid but I remember vividly waiting to go to hospital in full PPE so we could say goodbye to him. I remember what it was like to sit there and wait, so the last few weeks have really fired me up.
"There are so many people who didn’t get to say goodbye to who they loved and goodbyes are so important when it comes to beginning the grieving process.
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"Not being able to say it makes that process a lot harder. There’s the full stop of death, but not the full stop in terms of the last moments you have with that person.
"And that’s something people will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. That’s why what’s going on matters and that's why I get really fired up about it."
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