Armed Forces Day: Bob

Armed Forces Day: Bob's story

Thu 16 June

To mark this year's Armed Forces Day, our supporter Jane Darby looked back on her husband Bob's 25 years of service.
YBTC is delighted to be an official partner of this year's National Armed Forces Day event in Scarborough.

Our supporter Jane Darby, who sadly lost her husband Bob to a brain tumour just seven months following his diagnosis, has shared his story to raise awareness.

Bob's story
Bob worked for twenty five years within the British army, rising up the ranks from nurse to major and travelling around the world.
Incredibly, a head injury which Bob sustained during an army training camp in Scotland led to a second speech centre being created in Bob’s brain, which enabled Bob to continue speaking following the removal of his glioblastoma - which should have left him without speech.

Bob's time in the army
Bob joined the armed forces in 1979 as part of the Royal Army Medical Corps, where he resat his O-Levels and trained in basic military first aid. In 1981 he completed a six-week placement at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where he had an “absolute blast” with the Chelsea pensioners. Following this Bob moved to Aldershot to complete his training.
Bob met Jane in 1981, at a leaving party for colleague of their mothers, who both worked at the same Nottingham hospice. By 1985 they were married.
In 1987 Bob decided to specialise in opthalmics and studied for a diploma while working at Moorfields Eye Hospital in Islington. Two years later he completed the rigorous year-long application process to become an officer, getting his friends to practice mock interviews to prepare him to go up in front of the panel. Bob commissioned and became a second lieutenant and was posted to Woolwich.

Bob was called up to serve during the Gulf War and was made a captain. He left England in September 1990; the day of Bob and Jane’s fifth wedding anniversary.
At this point Jane was pregnant with their first child, Sarah, and they were only able to communicate via one ten-minute phone call per week, plus three or four aerograms. He was featured in the February 1991 edition of 'Soldier' magazine.
Bob came home on 14th March 1991, two weeks after Sarah was born. 
Between March and September 1992, Bob went on a single man tour of Omagh, where he worked as an RMOA, prescribing medication, diagnosing diseases and performing minor surgery.

Jane was pregnant with their second child, Thomas, and Bob made it back to England with hours to spare before the birth.
In October 1992 Bob, Jane and the family moved to Hong Kong where they stayed for two years. "It was an amazing time and it seems quite surreal now that we lived out there,” Jane says. Bob spent a few months in New Zealand as part of the Black Watch. “He came back singing the praises of this beautiful country, and said he wanted to take me there at some point.”
After moving back from Hong Kong Bob was promoted to Training Major and worked at the 256 Field Hospital in London, before being posted to Gosport.
Bob then decided he wanted to move into infection control, studying at university in Hertfordshire for one day a month and eventually gaining his degree in 1997.
From September 1998 to March 1999, Bob worked in Bosnia as a Regimental Medical Officer. Jane remembers that, while Bob was happy to discuss infection control with her, he kept the classified biochemical elements of his role a secret.
In 1999, Bob was sent on exercise to a field hospital in at TuTu Hospital in Oman.

In 1999 while living in Aldershot, Bob was called up for the second Gulf War. He was one of the first men to go out, as part of a small team tasked with building a brand new field hospital.
He was commended for his efforts and for doing a timely job. The hospital grew and Bob was promoted to infection control officer.
In around 2003 the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan was forced to close due to sickness; Bob was sent to look into the cause. Bob found being dropped at the airbase by a cargo plane “scary and surreal,” as while the other soldiers on the plane wore full-body protective equipment, Bob only had a helmet. The Minister of Defence made a televised speech, explaining that he had his best men investigating the issue, referring to Bob.
In 2001 Bob moved to Sandhurst, where he worked as the Senior Nursing Officer within infection control. Had he stayed in the army for another few years, Jane says, Bob would have been promoted to colonel.
However, he began to grow disillusioned with the armed forces and in 2004 he retired after 25 years of service.
Bob went on to work within the Leeds Primary Healthcare Trust, heading up the infection control team for four years. In 2008 was hired by a private healthcare company as the Director of Infection Control. When they suddenly made him redundant, he moved on to work for the NHS in Suffolk for a year before the private company offered him his old job back.
He accepted, and continued to work for this company until he passed away.

Bob's diagnosis
Bob was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, the most aggressive and deadly form of brain tumour, in August 2019.
A week before being diagnosed, he started having problems with saying certain words. Jane encouraged him to see a GP but he initially insisted he was fine. However, Bob became concerned when he realised he had forgotten to spell a common word, and went to see the GP the next morning. He asked the doctor “am I going mad, or have I had a stroke?”
The GP suspected he'd had a stroke and sent him straight to hospital. As Bob wasn’t permitted to drive, Jane had to rush home from work to take him to Leeds General Infirmary.
Bob answered some questions in A&E and was sent for a CT scan. Bob knew straight away something was wrong because they were sent to a ‘family room’ to wait to find out the results. Here, Bob was told that the scan had detected a brain tumour.
“You can’t describe how it feels getting that news,” Jane says. She remembers the doctor was lovely and respectful but couldn’t answer many questions, because the CT scan could only tell them so much.

A few days later, Bob returned for an MRI. He was told the tumour would ideally be a grade 2, but was more likely to be a grade 3.
Jane remembers how lovely the doctors in A&E were; one of them called her back days later to check how Bob was doing.
Soon after, Bob underwent an awake craniotomy. Bob had always been afraid of heights, so the day before his operation, Jane and Bob drove to Malham Cove and watched people rock climbing; he wanted to mentally prepare himself for the operation by witnessing people doing something which, to him, was much more frightening.
Jane and Bob said goodbye before he was taken to theatre, not knowing whether they would see each other again.
Jane was told the operation could last up to six hours and not to hang around, so she went into Leeds for some food with family and friends.
During their meal, Bob’s number rang Jane's phone. It was one of the speech therapists, calling from theatre to let her know that the operation went well and had been quicker than expected. Soon after one of the anaesthetists called to let her know that Bob was being taken back to the ward.
When Jane arrived Bob was tired, but the adrenaline was keeping him going. He was even teaching some of the student nurses on the ward.
Because of the placement of the tumour, in the middle of the brain’s speech centre, Bob shouldn’t have been able to speak following his operation. However, because of an injury to the head he had sustained during an adventure training week in Scotland when he first joined the army, Bob's brain had formed a second speech centre.
He sometimes struggled over certain words, but generally was much more capable of speech than he should have been, as a result of the accident many years ago.
10 days after his surgery, Bob was officially diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain tumour. He was told it was terminal and that the average expectancy was 18 months to 3 years. Bob said that he would do everything in his power to make it 3 years, or 5 if he could.

Bob’s nurse specialist referred Bob and Jane to Yorkshire’s Brain Tumour Charity. The nurse said that there is not a lot of support out there for brain tumours specifically, that there are cancer charities and hospices, but having a brain tumour is unlike any other type of cancer.
He initially responded well to radio and chemotherapy and managed to get through Christmas. In January, he had a huge seizure and suffered an oedema on the brain. The MRI taken at the time was blurry so they couldn’t say for sure what was wrong.
By March, Bob knew something was not right. He sensed that the tumour had grown back before he had another MRI which confirmed this.
Sadly, the hospital said that there was nothing further they could do. Bob and Jane asked how long he had left, hoping for six or eight months, but they were told he had a maximum of 3 months to live.
Bob passed away just seven weeks later on 27th May, 2020.
Jane says that Covid made an already difficult situation so much worse, as they couldn’t go out and do the things Bob enjoyed. In his last few months Bob was struggling to walk up stairs, so their dining room was converted into a bedroom.
Thomas moved back home, and Sarah’s military husband Adam was given permission by the army to work during term time only, so during the school holidays they moved back to be with Bob and Jane.
Jane’s sister brought her caravan into their garden to use as a guest bedroom, which Bob’s brother used after first quarantining for two weeks.
Only two people at Bob's workplace were told about his diagnosis before he passed away. Initially, Bob insisted that he didn’t want anyone besides his closest family members seeing him so ill. Eventually, with encouragement from his brother, Bob invited over two of his old army friends, Matt and Paul.
Jane says it was lovely to see Bob reminiscing about his army days, and remembers laughing when Paul couldn’t remember the name of one of their old colleagues, while Bob remembered the name but wasn’t able to say it, so they spent ages scrolling through Facebook to find the right person.
Jane’s birthday was on the 24th May, just days before Bob passed away, and her friends visited their garden. Bob was in a rising chair in the conservatory and Jane sat with him, until he told her to go and sit with her friends and not worry about him.
The final time Bob went out, just before lockdown, was for his grandson Rory’s fifth birthday party.
Jane says that lots of people felt awful that they weren’t able to do more to help. Only 10 people were allowed at Bob’s funeral, although many more stood outside the crematorium to pay their respects. Jane says that in normal times, upwards of 300 people would have attended.

Getting involved with YBTC
Shortly after Bob was diagnosed, Jane started receiving counselling through YBTC. She says that Christine was lovely to talk to and helped massively.
One of Bob’s friends, Neil, came up with the idea of selling t-shirts with the slogan ‘One Bob 1962’, a nod to the year Bob was born. Jane and Bob invited Neil and his wife Debs to come up from London for a cheque presentation at the YBTC charity shop in Headingley, having raised nearly £900.

Since then, Jane has been supporting the charity in numerous ways, collecting spare change in jam jars, donating clothing to the charity shop and attending our Strictly event.
After Bob passed away Jane was introduced to the charity’s bereavement support group, led by a volunteer Janet who is herself bereaved.
Janet has since become a close friend, and the pair regularly meet up outside of the fortnightly group. “It’s really nice talking to someone who gets it,” Jane said.
Jane recently resigned from her job and has started to volunteer in our charity shop.
“Those with brain tumours don’t get a fair shake when it comes to research and support, which is why I continue to support the charity. Bob was very grateful that the charity was there, if not for him then for me. I know that I can phone at any time and someone will be there to speak to me. You feel very welcome every time you pop in to the charity shop.”
Jane says that everyone remembers Bob as being “professional, fair, nice, caring and cheeky. He always had the brightest smile and wasn’t a political creature, he got on with everyone.”
Bob was diagnosed just nine days before Bob and Jane were set to fly to Canada for a holiday. Bob made her promise to go without him, and this June she is going with her sister on the trip they intended to take together.
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