‘Fancy a glass of red or white?’ my friend Kristen, 37, shouted from the bar.
I’d headed to the pub after a long day of looking after my three children and needed a girly catch-up with my best friend.
She hastily brought over a bottle of wine for us both to share, and we delved into our normal love-life chatter.
‘Oh you know, nothing much going on with little old me!’ I told her, nervously swilling my wine glass, thinking about how I still hadn’t found ‘the one’.
It was April 2011 and I had just turned 31.
I had always dreamed of being in a loving marriage by this point of my life, but instead I was a single mum to three extraordinary children but with one thing missing – that special man.
I loved being a mum to Lexi, now 17, Hayden, now 16, and Chelsea, now 11, but having an extra pair of hands to help me out with the trio wouldn’t go amiss.
Just as I was fantasising about my mystery man, I spotted someone at the bar.
I instantly had my love goggles on.
I fumbled over to his spot at the bar and struck up a conversation.
‘What brings you here today then?’ I asked him, stumbling over the words due to my nervousness.
He grinned with a dashing smile, and turned towards me.
‘A hard day of mimicking Postman Pat,’ he chuckled.
He told me his name was Tony, and that he was a postie – explaining his joke.
We had a flirty chat but more than anything, we laughed and laughed. Maybe the wine helped, but before I knew it we were giggling away in the pub’s garden and exchanging mobile numbers.
Three hours later, we both called it a night, and he gave me a big bear hug as we both went our separate ways.
‘Tony, eh?’ Kristen jested.
‘Maybe I’ve found my Prince Charming after all,’ I smirked.
Fast forward a year, and after frequent texting and a whole load of dates, Tony and I were a very happy couple.
I’d come to learn he was a parent too, just like me.
His little ones – 17-year-old Kyle and Mikey, 13 – accepted me right away, and he was instantly a father figure to my children too.
In April 2012, we cuddled in bed together like we did every evening, and I could feel Tony’s heart beating quicker than it usually did.
‘You okay, love?’ I asked him, worried he was panicking about something.
‘Just thinking about things,’ he told me and I instantly started to worry.
‘Is everything okay?’ I whispered.
‘Well, I just wanted to find the right way to ask you something. I love you Trish, and I was wondering… if you’d like to marry me?’ he blurted out.
I gasped – I couldn’t believe what was happening!
My head shot up from his chest, and I squeezed tightly onto his hand.
‘It would be my honour to call myself your wife!’ I exclaimed, ecstatic at what had just happened.
After all, Mrs Stevens had a very nice ring to it.
But before we could start planning a wedding – another surprise was coming our way.
I had been feeling sick in the mornings, and after three children, I knew exactly what was happening.
Five pregnancy tests later, I came to Tony with the news.
‘I hope you’re ready to be a dad again…’ I timidly told him.
Just like the first time we had met, Tony embraced me in a big bear hug, and told me he couldn’t ask for anything better in life than sharing a child with me.
In July 2012, we had our son Jacob, and he was a happy and healthy baby.
When Jacob was just six months old, we fell pregnant again – this time with Madison, now five.
‘You and our kids are everything I need,’ Tony announced one night over dinner. He was the perfect father and husband, and the man who I had dreamed of all of my life.
In December 2018, our relationship and life together was still flourishing, when one night, Tony came out of the bathroom looking worried.
‘Trish, can you have a look at this for me?’ he muttered sheepishly.
‘Of course love,’ I said, moving towards him as he revealed a big lump on his groin.
‘That doesn’t look too good,’ I told him, urging him to get it checked out.
It looked like a big lump of fatty tissue had gathered all in one place, but we both thought it best to book a doctor’s appointment rather than tempt fate.
In the two week period we waited for his appointment, Tony started displaying symptoms of something neither of us could explain.
The lump was getting bigger and bigger day by day, and in the middle of the night Tony was getting up out of bed, drenched in sweat.
He looked like he’d just come back from a waterpark – he was that soaked.
Not only were the night sweats tormenting him, Tony was suffering from extreme tiredness, weight loss and his skin was itching and peeling too.
Finally, the doctor’s appointment came about just four days before Christmas, and we kept our fingers crossed for a simple diagnosis and some medication to help him get better.
But that wasn’t to be.
After a quick once over with the doctor, Tony was sent for an emergency biopsy to test out the lump at The Great Western Hospital, Swindon, Wiltshire, where he would receive the results later in the day on the phone.
After much anticipation, we had arrived back home and Tony’s phone started to ring.
‘Must be the doctors, give me a sec,’ he said, twiddling his thumbs with nerves.
Around 20 minutes later, Tony walked into the room sheepishly.
‘Well?’ I asked, keen to figure out what my husband was going through.
‘Don’t get mad,’ he warned. ‘But they said it isn’t cancerous. Actually, they said it’s an STI.’
‘What?’ I screamed, lurching up from the sofa and waving my arms around.
I knew for a fact I had no STIs – having been checked before Tony and I had met – so this meant only one thing.
‘Who is she then? This other woman you’ve been seeing on the side. As it’s bloomin’ well not me who’s given you that filthy disease is it,’ I fumed.
But before I gave him the chance to answer, I stormed upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom.
‘How could he do this to me?’ I thought to myself, feeling nothing but betrayal and anger.
‘What was I not doing right to make him do this? What was another woman giving him that I couldn’t?’ I tortured myself.
I heard a soft knocking at the bathroom door – Tony had come up to explain.
‘I’ve haven’t been with anyone but you, Trish. You must believe me. You’re the love of my life and the mother of my children!’ he protested.
‘Doctors don’t lie Tony, but apparently you do,’ I spat at him, furious that he had the audacity to even speak my name.
Tony was insistent that there was some kind of mistake, but I didn’t believe a word of it. After all, the doctor had made their diagnosis, so it must be correct.
Determined to prove his innocence, Tony booked another doctor’s appointment as soon as he could, but that was an entire month away.
‘I’ll be sleeping in the spare room,’ I informed him, not even able to look him in the eye any more.
I felt completely broken.
‘How could I have been so naive to fall for a man who would do this to me? How stupid must I have been!’ I thought to myself.
The next month was complete agony.
Neither of us were financially stable enough to move out, so we had to grin and bear it in the same house, waiting impatiently for the next doctor’s appointment to come around.
After all, we had a family of seven children in total, two of them still very little – they needed their mum and dad, so even though I hated being around him, Tony and I made it work for their sake.
At long last, in mid-January 2019 Tony went to the doctors, and I waved him off expecting the same result as before.
‘He’s going to all lengths to cover up his lies,’ I thought to myself as he drove off.
But when Tony came back, he didn’t bring any answers.
Instead, he was told the same as before, and my heart broke all over again. Tony hastily booked another appointment for March 2019.
But when he returned from that appointment, he looked as white as a sheet. I instantly felt my stomach drop.
‘Hey,’ he said, closing the front door softly behind him.
I knew something much more serious was going on, and saw a man that needed my help. I let my feelings take a back seat, and comforted the crumbling man in front of me.
‘It’s not an STI. I never have and never will be with any woman other than you, I need you to know that,’ Tony said. ‘But they have discovered that lump was a sign of something else. Something much more… serious.’
‘Oh Tony,’ I said. ‘What is it?’
With one big sigh, he told me what was going on.
Tony was being honest with me all along – he had never been with anyone else, and he didn’t have a sexually transmitted infection at all. He had cancer.
My heart dropped as he told me what the doctor had said.
Tony’s symptoms were getting worse, so the doctor decided to run more tests this time. And that’s when they found something called Cellulite Lymphedema – a rare form of blood cancer.
Not only that, but Tony had developed sepsis too as infections were waging a war on his body, unable to be fought off as he hadn’t received the right medication.
I felt my world collapse beneath my feet once again. After all of that, Tony had been truthful, and was going through something I thought was unimaginable.
He was brought into the hospital before we both had the time to process what was going on, and doctor’s were poking and prodding him every moment.
Tony had been fighting something vicious all of this time, whilst I couldn’t even look him in the eye because of a lie.
I wanted the world to swallow me up.
‘How could I have done that to him in his moment of need?’ I cried.
With a diagnosis, Tony could finally receive the help he needed.
‘We think he only has five years,’ the doctor told me whilst Tony was still being treated for his sepsis.
‘Five years?’ I gasped. This felt like a living nightmare.
Over the coming weeks, Tony’s body had filled up with three stones worth of lymph fluid, and he didn’t look himself at all.
He needed help, and he needed it now. Thank goodness we were finally in the right place to do so.
Tony was eventually discharged a month later, having beaten sepsis, and given a new treatment plan for his cancer.
He came home to the kids and I, and I have vowed since that day to stay by his side no matter the hurdles that are thrown our way.
We might not have all of the time in the world, but we have been able to reform our bond.
I feel silly for ever doubting him, but anyone in my position would’ve done the same.
All that is important now is making memories, and remembering our love for each other.
After all, Tony is still the same man I met in the pub that day.
Even if our future is shorter than most couples, we will make the most of it, together.