Husband pays tribute to wife lost to rare cancer

Joanna Shaw
Joanna Shaw
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An inspirational teacher died just 20 days after being diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer.

Mum-of-two Joanna Shaw filmed herself reading bedtime stories for her little girls and made her devastated husband promise they would not forget her after being told out of the blue she had less than three weeks to live.

St Annes teacher Joanna Shaw died aged 39 from adrenal cortical cancer just 20 days after being diagnosed. Pictured with her husband Gareth.

St Annes teacher Joanna Shaw died aged 39 from adrenal cortical cancer just 20 days after being diagnosed. Pictured with her husband Gareth.

Gareth, from St Annes, said his “family has lost the jewel in its crown.”

Joanna, best known as Jo, was given the devastating news she had adrenal cancer, which affects just 40 people out of the 330,000 diagnosed with cancer in the UK every year, after returning from the family’s summer holiday.

Tests later showed the cancer had spread with tumours in her kidneys and liver and a blood clot had developed in her heart.

She died at Blackpool Victoria Hospital after spending her last days making memories for daughters Eva, seven, and Isla, three.

An absolute angel, she was selfless, our jewel

Gareth said: “She made me promise she would be remembered. She spent her last days writing her life story for the kids and filming videos.

“She just sat down and that’s what she spent her evenings doing.

“She was an absolute angel who was completely selfless. She was all about making sure the children did well and we did well as a family.”

Jo began to suffer from swollen ankles and a shortness of breath while in France in August. It was nothing that caused us major concern,” Gareth said. “She was a trooper and hardly ever had a day off work.

“She had just started doing the ‘Couch to 5k’ course and was getting herself fit.”

Early last month, on Monday, September 7, Jo suddenly deteriorated and was taken to A&E, where scans showed the full extent of her illness.

Gareth, 45, who works as an environmental health officer at Blackpool Council, said: “We got the diagnosis and we did not know much about it. But after tests the consultant realised there was not much time left.

“She was riddled with it. It was in her adrenal glands, kidneys, she had a blood clot in her heart, and it had spread to her liver.

“There was a little bit of hope with chemotherapy but it was 100 per cent inoperable without any real signs or pain whatsoever.

“There was nothing that rang alarm bells at the time or I would not put down to getting older.

“We did start to prepare for the worst but I could not describe it as anything other than devastating.

“We got one night at home with her and in 24 hours she just deteriorated.”

Jo died after being re-admitted to hospital on Sunday, September 27.

Teachers and staff at Southlands High School have paid tribute to their colleague and friend, who also mentored students at the Chorley school.

Headteacher Mark Fowle said: “My last meeting with Jo was at the end of the summer holidays when she was telling me that she had enjoyed a really good break and was looking forward to the start of term.

“She looked very happy and relaxed. I still can’t believe that we have lost Jo in such a short period of time.”

Jo’s pastoral manager Alan Thomas said: “Her death at such a young age and the fact that she is leaving behind such a young family makes her passing even harder to understand . Staff and students are still in shock at her passing and it will take time for school to recover.”

Gareth and Joanna first met 17 years ago when he was interviewing university graduates to work in a food factory.

“She was 22 and I was 28. It was love at first sight,” he said. “She was just an absolute angel who was completely selfless.

“She took on my lads at three and nine-years-old and it was if she was their mum.”

As well as helping to raise Aarran and Daniel, now both in their 20s - Gareth’s two sons from a previous relationship - the couple went on to have Eva and Isla together.

The pair married in August 2011, and would spend their spare time holidaying in France and visiting the Isle of Skye, where Gareth plans to now spread his wife’s ashes.

Eva and Isla have already sat down to watch the heart wrenching videos, which show Jo reading If ‘Mum and Me Were Mermaids’, and ‘The Tickle Book’ and Gareth has vowed to raise them with her same ‘amazing, caring and unsurpassed moral standards’.

He also pledged to dedicate the rest of his life to raising awareness of the ‘vicious, rapid, and relentless disease’.

He said: “It took away everything we had without any warning or time to prepare.”

The cancer, which affects two glands growing close to a patient’s kidneys, is fast growing, hard to detect, and is often diagnosed when treatment is no longer an option.

Jo was also survived by her parents Kathy and Terry.

A funeral service was held at St Annes Parish Church on Wednesday.

Donations to Cancer Research UK are still being welcomed, c/o Box Bros in Hawes Side Lane.