Six months ago Dave Hodgson died of skin cancer aged 41. In a frank interview, his wife Natalie tells Richard McComb how she and daughter Olivia are coping and how Dave’s wish to help other patients is being fulfilled.
Natalie Hodgson is recounting in plain, unsanitised terms the death of her husband, Dave.
She recounts the events articulately. She does not shirk details about the medical treatment, which at times was harrowing. Dave, who had skin cancer, would have wanted her to be honest, to be true to him, and she is honouring that spirit.
Natalie describes the last hours of Dave’s life in a Dubai hospital.
They were joined by one of Dave’s best friends, who had arrived hours earlier from the UK and stayed at the couple’s side, as Dave requested. The three of them – the wife, the husband and the friend – held hands and waited.
Natalie recalls that one of Dave’s last gestures was to express his satisfaction that his beloved football team, Wigan Athletic, had secured a draw with Stoke.
I didn’t know Dave that well, but I know he would want that recorded. Some of his ashes have been interred under the club’s pitch.
It is only six months since he died and I am surprised by Natalie’s composure, her willingness to talk frankly about what happened then, and what happens now. It’s not that she is emotionally detached; far from it.
She speaks candidly about her feelings and admits it is harder to talk about her emotions than it is to talk about the facts of the illness.
She does not break down or stumble with her words. So I have to ask her. How does she do it – and is she really coping?
“This is the weird part. It’s very hard to explain,” says Natalie. “You have to remember Dave and I were told that he had terminal cancer six-and-a-half months prior to him passing away.”
She explains she has been grieving since the day they were given the final, irrefutable diagnosis last June. She grieved for her husband while he was still alive.
The grief began as soon as the consultant said the cancer had spread to Dave’s liver and was inoperable.
He may have died on December 31 but Natalie has been mourning his loss for more than a year.
Dave, a former marketing director at Marketing Birmingham, had relocated to Dubai with Natalie and daughter Olivia to take up the post of director of corporate communications at Meydan race course.
He died aged 41 on New Year’s Eve, less than a year after he was diagnosed with melanoma.
Dave was determined to raise awareness about skin cancer and offer support to fellow patients and their families.
He built up a global following on the social networking site Twitter, posting unflinching updates about his illness.
Since his death, Natalie has passed many milestones. There was the cremation in Dubai followed by the funeral service, held at the church in Aston Cantlow, Warwickshire, where she and Dave were married eight months earlier.
There was the decision to return to Stratford-upon-Avon, where Natalie’s parents live, and the move back home in May.
Natalie and Olivia were joined by Honey, Dave’s beloved rescue dog, a Persian greyhound he saved from a Dubai building site and with whom he became inseparable.
Days after we meet, a container from Dubai is due to arrive at Natalie’s rented home.
It has all the couple’s furniture and their belongings, including wedding photographs and the videos Dave made for his family in the last weeks of his life. One of the films records December 25, when Natalie and Olivia brought Christmas into Dave’s hospital room.
Another milestone falls on Thursday night (July 5) when an important part of Dave’s legacy will be celebrated.
His desire to help other cancer patients – and his love of a good night out – will be marked with a “Go East for Dave” summer ball at Villa Park, Birmingham.
Proceeds from the event – featuring belly dancers and fire-eaters – will be split between the Skin Cancer Research Fund (SCaRF) and the adopted charities of Birmingham Publicity Association, which is staging the event.
Dave would have loved the evening. Natalie says: “It is everything he used to be involved in. There will be a lot of fellow marketeers and colleagues. It is lovely that people still want to do things to help.
“Dave had a great life. It was very short and he was taken too early. But he isn’t, by far, the youngest person this cancer has taken. It is so aggressive and it needs money for research.”
SCaRF is based at Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, which has an international reputation for the treatment of skin cancer, particularly malignant melanoma.
As she looks ahead to the evening, Natalie jokes she is no longer in the “black widow stage”. The emptiness and the loneliness creeps up on her “but not every day is hard”.
It is a world away from the day when the consultant delivered his devastating prognosis last June.