Woman organises wedding in 36 hours after husband's cancer diagnosis

Bride whose new boyfriend, 39, was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour organsises lockdown wedding in just 36 hours – and is determined to have his baby by IVF despite him being given 12 months to live

  • Stuart Bathers met Esther Bate-Williams in June last year and instantly hit it off 
  • In January the happy couple received news Stuart had a grade-4 brain tumour 
  • On February 1 Stuart’s neurosurgeon told couple that his cancer was incurable
  • That night the couple called the registry office to book a slot for 36 hours later 
  • Planning to have a baby using IVF even though Stuart may die before it’s born

When Stuart Bathers finally plucked up the courage to ask Esther Bate-Williams on a proper date last June, neither of them expected to hit it off so quickly – discussing having children and planning a future together within days.

But in late January the happy couple from Cheltenham received the worst possible news – Stuart had a grade 4 brain tumour. 

Not wanting to hear the horrific prognosis, but knowing Stuart, 39, would undergo gruelling treatment to manage the incurable cancer, they decided to organise a last-minute lockdown wedding and vowed that whatever the future held, they would do everything to have the baby they’d talked about since last summer.

Having finished his six weeks of intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy, they have started their IVF journey – despite the fact Stuart might not live to meet their child – and are actively looking at funding alternative treatments to beat the cancer.

Stuart Bathers, 39, and Esther Bate-Williams, 41, from Cheltenham, tied the knot in February this year following the news Stuart has a grade 4 brain tumour

When Stuart finally plucked up the courage to ask Esther on a proper date last June, neither of them expected to hit it off so quickly. The pair are pictured a week after they started dating

Esther, a 41-year-old florist, said: ‘I’ve never had a brilliant track record with men, but the moment I went for that first picnic date with Stu in June I knew I’d hit the jackpot. 

‘We’d actually met through friends in the January, but Stu was very shy so took a long time to summon up the courage – but thank goodness he finally did! 

‘He was everything I wanted on my check list – the kindest, funniest, most positive person I could hope to meet. We just connected straight away, and – as insane as it sounds – talked about how we both wanted to have kids on that first date. From day one, there was an assumption that we were a couple, and we could start planning a future together.

‘At the time my wedding floristry business had been hit for six by Covid, and he really helped me cope, always upbeat and inspiring me to stay strong. We became so close so incredibly quickly, not just the heady first days of passion, but a proper bond, a complete partnership on every level.’

The couple decided to organise a last-minute lockdown wedding in just 36 hours and tied the knot in Stroud registry office

The couple, pictured in January, also vowed that whatever the future held, they would do everything to have the baby they’d talked about since last summer

Everything changed in late January. After two days of headaches and then waking up unable to tell Esther her name, the couple realised something was very wrong. 

‘Stu seemed very stressed with his work, which we thought might be causing this, but our real fear was he had had some kind of stroke,’ Esther recalled.

Unable to get an appointment with his GP for two weeks due to Covid restrictions, Esther’s mum urged them not to wait, so she called 111 and was told to go immediately to Gloucester Royal Hospital.

After several tests and scans, just a few hours later a consultant doctor gave the couple the bombshell news that he suspected Stu had a brain tumour called a glioblastoma. 

‘Stu just sat there, unable to get any words out, while I broke down in tears, trying to ask any of the hundreds of questions instantly throwing themselves at this horrific news,’ Esther said.

The couple, pictured during a date night at home last year, had met through friends in the January of 2020, but shy Stu took a long time to summon up the courage to ask her out 

Esther, pictured with Stu last summer, said the pair had an instant connection, insisting her beau was ‘everything I wanted on my check list – the kindest, funniest, most positive person I could hope to meet’ 

Stu is pictured on the couple’s first date, his birthday. Esther said the pair talked about how they both wanted to have kids on that first date

‘A friend who’s a nurse in the same hospital came to join us to help us get some of the answers we needed. The main one was obviously, “How the hell can this be happening? He’s just 39!”‘

Stu stayed in hospital over the weekend and was put on high-strength steroids to reduce the inflammation on his brain. 

The following week they had a meeting with the Multidisciplinary Team at Southmead Hospital in Bristol to discuss the next steps, but Stu still required further scans to accurately assess what the plan of action would be.

He was later given a prognosis of 12 months – but the couple refused to take it lying down. ‘We were too young, too happy, with so much to look forward to,’ Esther said. ‘If we didn’t have hope and positivity, we had nothing.’  

That Sunday evening while the couple were in hospital, Stu told Esther he had something important he wanted to do. 

‘He got out his phone and Facetimed my mum, asking her if he could have my hand in marriage – without asking me!’ Esther recalled.

‘Of course he knew what my answer would be, and my mum cried “YES”, saying how, just like me, she had loved him from the moment she met him.’

Esther – pictured with Stu after he popped the question -says the couple ‘refused to take the 12-month prognosis lying down’ 

Stuart arranged for both their families to gather in their local park to witness his proposal to Esther 

The couple enlisted the help of their families to pull together the wedding. They are pictured with Stu’s mum and sister

The next day Stuart was allowed to go home and arranged for their families to gather in their local park to witness his proposal. 

Esther told how there was snow on the ground and the park was largely deserted, so when Stu got down on one knee in front of everyone it felt like he’d reserved the whole space just for them to make the moment even more special. 

‘He’d got my grandmother’s ring from my mum, and while I was in floods of tears, it couldn’t have been more beautiful,’ she said.

‘We all walked up through the park where we met a random busker, who my mum asked to play a song for us – he chose “Two Little Birds” by Bob Marley, an amazing song which will always take me back to that moment.’

On February 1, the couple had a video call with their neurosurgeon who told them Stu’s cancer was incurable, but operable – so while it might never fully disappear, they could have much longer than first feared. The focus remained on managing Stu’s symptoms and giving him medication to prevent seizures. 

Knowing that operation was scheduled for February 12 and they’d have to isolate for over a week before then, Stu suggested on the drive home that they got married as soon as possible.

Despite the news his tumour was incurable, Esther says Stu was ‘relentlessly positive’. The pair are pictured on their wedding day 

Pictured, the couple with Esther’s mother and stepfather Simon and Stu’s mum, Teresa, and younger sister Laura

Esther said that while it ‘certainly wasn’t the big wedding we’d dreamed of, it was perfect in its own way’ 

‘We knew that after the surgery he would need weeks of chemo and radiotherapy, with many more weeks’ recovery, so this was our time,’ Esther explained.

‘That night we called our families to tell them the plan, and my mum and stepdad called the registry office to book a slot for the Wednesday, just 36 hours later under special licence.

‘The next morning, knee-deep in preparing for our big day, we got another call from the neurosurgeon – the latest MRI scan showed the tumour had grown into the “midline” of the brain, so surgery wasn’t an option any more. This had changed in a matter of days, giving an indication of how fast and aggressive this tumour was.

‘Still reeling from this latest blow, we focused on the wedding – Stu relentlessly positive as always in spite of the bleakest news.

‘My friend, Jo, had called around various jewellers to get us two beautiful gold bands made, which were delivered the morning of February 3, my business partner Jess ordered a jump suit from the Asos bridal range and Stu looked impossibly handsome in a blue suit and shirt – because of lockdown it was the first time I’d ever seen him wear a suit and I didn’t try on my outfit until our wedding morning.’

After the wedding the pair went to Stratford Park to get some photos taken by their friend and photographer Sheryl

The couple, pictured during their first dance, were married in Stroud registry office with only four guests due to lockdown restrictions 

The pair, pictured signing their marriage certificate, were called to the hospital straight after the wedding for a biopsy

They wed in Stroud registry office, Esther’s stepfather Simon walking her down the aisle, with her mother, Stu’s mum Teresa and younger sister Laura there too. Limited to just four guests, friends and other family had waved them off in their car when they left home. 

‘It certainly wasn’t the big wedding we’d dreamed of, but it was perfect in its own way,’ said Esther.

‘Afterwards we went to Stratford Park to get some photos taken by our lovely friend and photographer Sheryl, with beautiful flowers gifted by Jess. It was a magical afternoon.

‘While we’d have loved to relax and enjoy that evening at home together, sadly that couldn’t happen. We’d had a call earlier saying we had to go straight to hospital for a biopsy. That confirmed it was a “wild type” grade-4 glioblastoma, even harder to treat with chemo than we’d thought. 

What is glioblastoma?

Glioblastomas are the most common cancerous brain tumours in adults.

They are fast growing and likely to spread.

Glioblastomas’ cause is unknown but may be related to a sufferer’s genes if mutations result in cells growing uncontrollably, forming a tumour.

Treatment is usually surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible, followed by a combination of radio- and chemotherapy (chemoradiation).

It can be difficult to remove all of the growth as glioblastomas have tendrils that extend to other regions of the brain. These are targeted via chemoradiation.

Glioblastomas are often resistant to treatment as they are usually made up of different types of cells. Therefore, medication will kill off some cells and not others.

The average survival time is between 12 and 18 months.

Only 20 per cent of patients live longer than a year and just three per cent survive over three years.

Source: The Brain Tumour Charity  

‘With the clock ticking, we were booked in for multiple appointments with the oncology team at Cheltenham General to work out his treatment schedule, get a radiotherapy mask made and all the other things that we had no idea about but which we now know are so important.

‘By this point Stu and I had discussed kids again – how, no matter what happened, we would turn our dream into a reality. Stu wanted everything legally tied-up, so we’d signed documents with a solicitor stating that I could have his children even if he didn’t make it – like so much else, that meeting had been crammed into an hour of the morning before wedding day.

‘So, in the week running up to his treatment starting on February 15, we started the IVF process and he made me promise that I’d see it through. He refused to let cancer ruin our plans, the future we’d talked about endlessly those past few, precious months.’

By then the couple had completely overhauled their diets to do everything they could to boost his immune system and block the cancer pathways after researching online ways they could complement his NHS treatment.

They came across a book called How to starve cancer without starving yourself by Jane McLelland who’d fought her own terminal cancer prognosis and was still alive to tell the tale. They also read Radical Remission’ by Kelly A. Turner. 

‘My father passed away to cancer nine years ago, and I wish I knew then what I know now,’ Esther said. ‘We believe we can control Stu’s disease with an integrative approach; there are many examples of people doing this to create personalised cancer care. This we hope will stop this aggressive and fast-growing cancer from progressing and will stabilise him for as long as possible.

‘We hadn’t had a drink since New Year’s Eve, but even on our wedding day we didn’t pop open any Champagne. After the diagnosis we cut out all dairy, sugar, processed foods, simple carbohydrates, and on the advice of a kinesiologist, Stu had started taking a wide range of supplements, from curcumin, to D and B vitamins. 

‘We also added in integrative therapies, including acupuncture, cranial osteopathy and more. In short, we felt we had to be proactive to fight the cancer, we couldn’t just give in. Everyone’s DNA is different, and we had to personalise his cancer care.’

Stu’s chemo and radio finished on March 26, and by the end his speech was much better and the positive changes were so heartening. 

But just as some degree of normality seemed to return, Stu began experiencing blinding headaches, which his medical team said was unusual without any other symptoms but possibly caused by the radiotherapy treatment. 

The couple are now awaiting further scans but refuse to believe there isn’t more that can be done. They have been looking at options abroad, specifically the CeGat Clinic in Germany, which has shown amazing turnaround stories for those given terminal cancer prognoses after being diagnosed with glioblastoma. 

Stuart and Esther, pictured half way through Stu’s radio and chemo treatment, completely overhauled  their diets to do everything they could to boost his immune system and block the cancer pathways

The pair are fundraising for the CeGat Clinic in Germany which has shown ‘amazing turnaround stories’ for those given terminal cancer prognoses

‘We’ve sent a tumour sample to them for DNA sequencing, with the hope of producing an immuno-peptide vaccination which will train his immune system to attack the cancer T-cells,’ Esther explained.

‘We’ve raised over £30,000 of our £70,000 target so far with the support of friends and family and would love more than anything for people to donate, even a small amount. This really is our only hope of saving Stu and we are determined to keep fighting.

‘Since his diagnosis it’s become a full-time job to research and focus on getting him better. The more I read, the more I’m amazed – particularly how brain tumours are the biggest killers of children and adults under 40, yet it receives just three per cent of the £500million spent on cancer research in the UK each year. The standard care for brain tumours is still surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, which hasn’t changed in 30 years!

‘We have heard the phrase, “Don’t you think you should be spending what time you have with Stu rather than spending time researching” and my response is always – we made a promise to each other to leave no stone unturned and we’re not breaking that promise. 

The couple, pictured during one of Stuart’s radiotherapy appointments, have raised over £30,000 of their £70,000 target so far with the support of friends and family

In the week running up to Stuart’s ITF treatment, starting on February 15, he made Esther ‘promise’ that she would see through the IVF process

‘If we, as a family, hadn’t spent every waking hour doing research, we wouldn’t have heard about other patients who are having this treatment and it shouldn’t be like that at such a vulnerable time. 

‘The not for profit clinic we are working with hope to make the treatment accessible and more widely known. Their patients fly from all over the world sent by progressive oncology consultants from some of the top hospitals.

‘We are very excited to have started our IVF journey now, and every minute of every day is focused on Stu and his welfare – endless research, appointments, general care. 

‘With the help of a speech therapist he’s gradually recovering his speech. Every day he astounds me with his progress.

‘My husband is the bravest, most inspiring person I know. He’s done everything to show this tumour who’s boss. And he will be the best dad imaginable.’

You can follow Stuart and Esther’s fundraising journey here.

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