Finding “the positives” in a terminal cancer diagnosis may be tricky – but that’s exactly what retired chef Keith Dobson has done.
“There’s nothing to be done other than carry on until I can’t,” the 65-year-old, who is determined to make most of the time he has left.
The devastating news forced Keith and wife Carol, 60, to bring forward their planned wedding – and cancel the honeymoon.
But instead of asking for presents, the couple, who live in Blackpool, requested money to put towards a new summer house at the Squires Gate base of N-Vision, the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind.
They raised £1,000 for the charity and now a santa gnome outside Keith’s Cabin –named after the former Royal Navy cook – wears his chef’s hat in tribute to the generous gesture.
“I can’t stand gnomes but I’ve warmed to this one,” he jokes.
It was the money raised by Keith and Carol –who had a life changing diagnosis of her own when she lost her hearing just after her 60th birthday – that literally paved the way for an all-weather activity hub for all service users at the sight loss support charity’s Bosworth Place headquarters.
But despite having their own problems to face, Keith says they just wanted to use their hastily rearranged wedding to help others.
“Face it, what can I do with three toasters?” he adds.
“Carol lost her hearing in hours. They think it was a virus.
“She had just turned 60. She has hearing aids, but they are to help her when speaking – not to hear others. No, we’re not a couple who do things by halves.”
Chef Keith is determined to make the most of his borrowed time. He’s already outlived his consultant’s six-month prognosis by two months.
A simple bowel cancer test – the sort sent through the post every two years from the age of 60 – raised the alert.
A second test followed, then a biopsy.
“I knew it wasn’t good when I was taken into a room with lots of crosses on the wall and the consultant came in with two support nurses,” he says.
“‘How bad on a scale of one to 10?’ I asked. ‘About nine’, he said. I took it on the chin.”
Five courses of chemotherapy followed – with the hope of a lifesaving operation on return from the wedding.
Instead they got the bombshell news: “It’s spread. It’s everywhere. There’s nothing we can do. I’m sorry.”
Keith adds: “I had five courses of chemo and hoped I was doing well.
“I should have had a sixth course, but the consultant phoned and said, ‘go away and get married and we’ll discuss the op on return.’
“But there was no return. It’s a small cancer but a nasty one that sends cancer cells everywhere.”
Keith has taken the prognosis in his stride. “I won’t take strong painkillers – although the pain is terrible – because that would be giving in. It’s not me.
“It would be easy to be an emotional wreck. I do have woe-is-me days but I’m more positive than negative. I could get run over by a bus tomorrow.
“Instead I’ve been able to get things in order, make my funeral arrangements, sort out the Forces flag, know who the pall bearers are – I want to get it done my way and make things easier for those I love.
“And we’ve been able to help this fantastic charity – we’re part of their family.
“And, at my GPs’ there’s a poster up with my contact details offering support to anyone who’s been recently diagnosed. No takers yet.
“There’s nothing to be done other than carry on until I can’t. In the meantime, it’s all about living with the positives, not the negatives.”
Keith’s independent company, Complete Catering, has been on site at N-Vision for about 10 years.
It provides all the meals for residents of the care home, as well as the sight loss support charity’s weekly gatherings and special events and functions.
“The very first thing we did – when we took over - was give residents a proper choice,” he says.
“Food is a real highlight for them, and they now have five choices for every single meal including vegetarian. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved.”
Keith runs a tight ship, with five-star accreditation from the Food Standards Agency.
Chefs Ryan Green and Norman Taylor joined his crew as apprentices eight to nine years ago. As with the charity, where almost 30 per cent of the staff have served for more than 10 years, Keith’s chefs have been loyal.
“He’s like a second dad to us all,” says Shane O’Loan, fellow director, who’s been at the helm since Keith stood down.
N-Vision invited Keith and wife Carol to cut the ribbon to Keith’s Cabin, later joined by charity duty officer and volunteer coordinator Trish Hothersall and family.
Trish recruited her family to get the summer house up once the Dobsons’ wedding fund had paved the way.
“We couldn’t leave the summer house in pieces until the worst of the weather hit,” she says.
The family worked flat out over one of the wettest weekends in summer.
Seeing the Keith’s Cabin plaque almost broke the chef who tries to keep emotions under check.
“I had to turn away the first time I saw it,” he recalls. “I was so moved.”
Princess Alexandra Home care services manager Elaine Wright paid tribute to both families – and others, relatives of residents and care workers at the home, who all played their part.
“We can’t thank them enough,” she said,
Now it’s up to others to build on that legacy. The building has to be insulated, boarded, windows replaced, electrics installed, made fully accessible and kitted out as an activity hub.
It will also be used by Urban Organic CIC for the garden club and workshops involving residents and other regulars at the charity.
N-Vision hopes to rally support, funding or help in kind, from the wider community.
N-Vision chief executive Ruth Lambert adds: “The utter selflessness of those going through personal challenges never fails to amaze and move me.
“It’s a really important lesson in perspective for the rest of us.
“And this really is the Christmas gift that will keep giving.”