Jake and Emmy Coates were childhood sweethearts who drifted apart at 18, but met and rekindled their love 10 years later. Sadly, Emmy was diagnosed with a rare, terminal cancer, but she was determined to help others and raised £140,000 for cancer research before she died. Now Jake, 32, of Monmouth, Wales, is determined to have his late wife’s baby with a surrogate. As told to Karen Pasquali Jones
Early last Christmas morning my wife Emmy and I woke up early, put on our Christmas jumpers, watched her favourite film Elf – for the third time that week – then went downstairs to open presents with her family around the tree.
Later we sat round for our second Christmas turkey dinner in two days. This was our first Christmas as husband and wife and we wanted to make the most of it. Emmy, 31, loved Christmas. She’d made me promise to watch festive films with her every day throughout December, and she’d baked dozens of cakes, and even a gingerbread house.
But it wasn’t just her love of the festive season that made her pack as much as possible into every day. Just nine months earlier she’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and had been given just five years to live.
I’m glad now that we did so much because it turned out, tragically, to be our first and last Christmas together.
I’m dreading this Christmas, my first without Emmy. It will be a quiet day, looking after Molly, the puppy Emmy wanted as part of her bucket list. Of course, I’m still grieving, but I’m also grateful for every moment Emmy and had together because we were given a second chance at love, and, luckily, we took it…
Emmy and I had first met aged 11 at school. She was pretty with huge eyes and an even bigger smile. I sent her a note in class asking: ‘Will you be my girlfriend?’ I’d put two boxes for her to choose from – one for yes and one for no. Luckily, she ticked yes.
We shared our first kiss, and at sleepovers at friends’ houses I’d lay on the floor beside her bed and hold Emmy’s hand all night. We made a promise to each other when we were 16 that if we weren’t married when we reached 30 that we’d marry each other.
I went travelling while Emmy went to university and became a primary school teacher. I trained to be a doctor and moved to Sydney, Australia. We drifted apart.
Years rushed by and my birthday was approaching. I thought of Emmy. ‘I’m nearly 30,’ I emailed her. ‘Remember our promise to get back together if we were both single now?’
Reunited After 10 years
We emailed, then spoke on Facetime. As soon as I saw Emmy I knew I still loved her. We chatted for hours, and all my old feelings came rushing back. She said she felt the same.
During one of our three-hour chats Emmy told me she hadn’t been feeling well – she was exhausted with constant diarrhoea. Her GP dismissed it as irritable bowel syndrome, but 18 months later she was still rushing to the toilet every 20 minutes. ‘Get more tests done,’ I urged her.
I flew home for Christmas, and Emmy was waiting at the airport. She ran into my arms, and by the end of the fortnight we were making plans to be together.
Emmy flew out to see me in Sydney in February 2016. I showed her the sights, but one night she complained that her neck was sore. I gave her a massage and had a prickle of fear when I touched her neck. It was full of lumps. ‘Get those checked out when you’re back home,’ I said, hiding my worries.
This time she was sent for a biopsy of the lymph nodes in her neck. Four days later we received the results. Emmy had Medullary thyroid cancer. I caught the first flight back to the UK. We were in shock but full of fight. We’d just found each other again. Nothing could spoil that, not even cancer.
We’d booked a trip to the Philippines for the end of March but the morning we were supposed to fly, Emmy woke up in agony. ‘It’s hard to breathe,’ she gasped. I rushed her to hospital, where she was given a CT scan. The cancer had already spread into her lungs, spine, liver and bones. The pain in her chest was a cracked rib caused by the cancer.
‘It’s advanced,’ the consultant said. ‘I’m afraid it’s incurable.’
I took Emmy to Devon for the weekend and handed her the solitaire diamond ring I’d been planning to give her in the Philippines. ‘Will you marry me?’ I asked her.
We booked the wedding for 3 September 2016, in the local church where we’d grown up. Back in London doctors told us Emmy had probably had the cancer for two years. ‘You have a 20 per cent chance of surviving five years,’ the consultant said. ‘And you won’t be able to have a baby.’
Emmy had always wanted children. We started IVF treatment, and had nine embryos frozen.
I rushed back to Sydney to pack up my life there.
Hoping For A Cancer Cure
Emmy was referred to the Royal Marsden Hospital, in London, where she discovered she could have made a full recovery if her cancer had been diagnosed earlier. We didn’t dwell on ‘what ifs’. We had five years. Technology moved fast. We just hoped a cure would be found in that time… and in the meantime we’d make the most of each day.
Emmy was referred to the Royal Marsden Hospital, in London, where she discovered she could have made a full recovery if her cancer had been diagnosed earlier. We didn’t dwell on ‘what ifs’. We had five years. Technology moved fast. We just hoped a cure would be found
Emmy drew up a bucket list, making plans to see Coldplay, get a tattoo, a puppy, visit Dubai, kiss at the top of the Eiffel Tower … and raise money for the Royal Marsden hospital treating her.
To raise money, we decided to ride a tandem bike 1200 miles from London to Copenhagen. Emmy was incredible, cycling all day. We carried all her chemo tablets and medication in a trailer behind our bike which gave Emmy the idea to write a children’s book.
That and planning the wedding was a distraction from the cancer. Emmy was worried her acne, caused by the chemo drugs, would show on our wedding day, but she was the most beautiful bride.
I gasped when I saw her and could barely get my vows out. There wasn’t a dry eye when it came to saying, ‘in sickness and in health.’
We honeymooned in the Maldives where we swam with whale sharks. Back home, we ticked off more from Emmy’s bucket list including going to a film premiere, and publishing the first of the Tara and Tyrone children’s book which Emmy wrote while I did the illustrations.
We kissed at the top of the Eiffel Tower on Valentine’s Day and we even won a Just Giving award for Fundraising Team of The Year after we’d raised £140,000 for the Royal Marsden hospital.
Emmy was so dependent on chemo now that she would never be able to carry a child, and so we looked for a surrogate. Luckily, an old school friend, Liz Begg, got in touch. She has children already, and was the perfect fit. So, together, we began the long and tough journey to try and have a baby. We discussed the worst case scenario of Emmy not being alive to see the birth of our baby, but I knew that, even under those circumstances, we would want to have a baby together. If nothing else it would mean that I could hold on to a little bit of Emmy after she had gone.
Emmy was such a fighter. Each week brought a new challenge – including radiotherapy and spine surgery in April when she had to come off her chemo. The cancer went beserk, spreading everywhere, and Emmy was in a lot of pain. She was struggling to walk by May but she never complained. She simply bought the prettiest walking stick she could find.
Her fight was leaving her exhausted, and she quickly deteriorated. I was so worried I took her to hospital. Doctors said she was too unwell to continue her chemo. They wanted Emmy to stay in hospital. I knew we only had days.
I took her outside in her wheelchair to get some fresh air. ‘Do you think I’m dying?’ she asked. I had to tell her I thought she was and that there was nothing left for us to do. It was the hardest moment of my life and the first time in 18 months that I had seen Emmy genuinely frightened. It broke me in two. She cried for a few moments. Then she said: ‘If I am dying I want to go home. I want to see my parents, I want to have one of Dad’s BBQs!’
Emmy had a bed in the living room and I slept on an air mattress beside her. We were all there – her parents, David and Susie, sister Sophie, brother in law Matt, two-year-old niece Millie, and me.
She lay in her bed, with the French doors open, and we could hear the birds singing while Molly played around us. Emmy said sorry to each of us for causing a fuss and bringing us heartache. On September 3, I held her hand, tears streaming down my face, as Emmy slipped away.
I was numb as I helped arrange Emmy’s funeral, which 700 people attended. Afterwards, I tumbled into grief. Knowing I had to care for Molly, our puppy, was the only reason to get up. I was so proud when Emmy and I won the ITV London Fundraisers of the Year in the Pride of Britain Awards last month. I just wish she’d have been here as she’s the one who deserved it.
And now, with Christmas just days away, I’m dreading it without Emmy. It’s hard watching couples strolling round looking for presents with each other.
But I’m hoping for a special present. Liz, our surrogate, was pregnant before Emmy died, but sadly the pregnancy was etopic – developing in her Fallopian tube instead of her womb, which is very dangerous. But we will keep trying. To have a little bit of Emmy in the world through a son or daughter is literally all that matters to me right now. I’m hoping that she will be pregnant by Christmas or early next year.
Until I’m holding my and Emmy’s baby in my arms, I will keep fund-raising. I’m utterly heartbroken and I’m lost without Emmy, but I also feel lucky. There wasn’t a day that went by when we were together that I didn’t pinch myself. I couldn’t believe someone so incredible like Emmy would choose me – twice. But I’ll forever be grateful that she did. The happiness she gave to me in in 20 months was more than I could ever even have dreamt of having in a thousand lifetimes.
*Emmy and Jake’s latest book ‘Tara and Tyrone – Lost at Sea’, £6.99, is available on Etsy and also on www.mollivers.com.
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