A grieving father has vowed to raise his daughters with same ‘amazing, caring and unsurpassed moral standards’ as their mum who tragically died just 20 days after being diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer.
Inspirational teacher Joanna Shaw, 39, was told out of the blue that she had just three weeks to live and made her devastated husband Gareth promise he and their girls would never forget her.
She was diagnosed with adrenal cancer following a family summer holiday this year, and soon found herself ‘riddled’ with the disease, deteriorating within just days.
Jo spent her final days making memories for daughters Eva, seven, and Isla, three, and filmed herself reading bedtime stories for her little girls so they wouldn’t forget her.
The girls have already sat down to watch the heart wrenching videos, which show her reading If ‘Mum and Me Were Mermaids’, and ‘The Tickle Book’.
Gareth, 45, 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.”
The aggressive cancer affects just 40 people out of 330,000 diagnosed with it, in the UK every year.
Tests showed showed the cancer had spread with tumours in her kidneys and liver and a blood clot had developed in her heart.
Paying tribute to Jo, Gareth said his “family has lost the jewel in its crown”, and he has pledged to dedicate the rest of his life to raising awareness of the ‘vicious, rapid, and relentless disease’.
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.
“It took away everything we had without any warning or time to prepare,” said Gareth, who works as an environmental health officer at Blackpool Council.
“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.”
Gareth said Jo had began to suffer from swollen ankles and a shortness of breath while on holiday with her family in France in August, but he said it was “nothing that caused us major concern”.
He 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.”
“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 at Blackpool Victoria Hospital after being re-admitted on September 27.
Gareth said he first met Jo 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.
Teachers and staff at Southlands High School in Chorley, Lancs., have paid tribute to their colleague and friend, who also mentored students.
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 cant 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.”
Jo was also survived by her parents Kathy and Terry, and her funeral was held on Wednesday.
Donations to Cancer Research UK are still being welcomed.