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SUE REES married her partner of 19 years in a hospital ward the same day she learned he had only hours to live.

The still-grieving 45-year-old told Wales on Sunday how the pair rushed to bring forward their wedding after learning her partner Kevin's cancer was far worse than doctors had previously realised.

In a ward turned into a makeshift chapel with flowers from around the hospital, the pair wed that evening with a simple gold wedding band bought from a nearby jeweller.

The following evening, Kevin died. Sue and Kevin, a former Royal Regiment of Wales sergeant major, knew he had battled kidney cancer in the past but thought he had beaten the dreaded tumours.

It was only one Thursday evening two years ago as she went to work that Sue had a call from Kevin warning her that doctors were about to ring.

"I had a call from Kev to say the doctors would phone," Sue said.

"I then had a call from the doctor at 20 past eight to tell me they had the results back and they had found it was large cell cancer."

Even then, it was not until the next morning in hospital that she realised how serious his condition was. Despite never having smoked, Kevin's cancer had spread to his lungs.

Sue, 45, said: "When I went to the hospital I was told it was not days he had left. It was hours. That was Friday morning. Kev's attitude was, 'Get me out of here I'm going to the register office today.'" The 59-year-old was too ill to do that and Sue rushed there to fill in paperwork.

"We got married that day at six o'clock in the evening with his family and friends there," the mum of three and grandmother of three said.

The staff at Glangwili Hospital, Carmarthen, were "brilliant".

Because of the rush Sue, of Four Roads, Carmarthenshire, was unable to wear her dress.

"The dress has not been worn," Sue said. "I didn't care about wearing a wedding dress, I just wanted to be back at the hospital with him. Knowing that it was the last few hours was heartbreaking."

The couple's wedding rings were not ready either. Sue quickly bought a simple gold band for herself from a nearby jeweller. Kev, from Abertillery, did not want one.

"We borrowed flowers from other wards, it was like a little chapel," Sue said. "My son and daughter gave me away."

Dad-of-two and stepfather-of-three Kev was too sick to get out of bed.

"He could not stand up," Sue said. "I was by the side of his bed."

It was "one of the most dramatic days of my life".

"Being given the news that morning he was going to die in hours and not knowing how long those hours were going to be - whether it was 10 hours, 20 hours or 30 hours.

"His words to me were to 'Stay strong and get on with things.'" After the ceremony he was given morphine. "He could not have it before because he had to be compos mentis to sign the paperwork," Sue said.

"As soon as we were married he was taken back to his ward to give him the medication.

"With the morphine he went to sleep and we left him for the evening and got back at 7am.

"The Saturday he was in and out of consciousness. He was heavily sedated with the morphine and when he did speak it was to say he wanted his red dickie bow.

"He had specifically told me to bring his red dickie bow and I had forgotten it."

He had spent Friday evening in front of a rugby match on TV.

"He watched the Scarlets. He was big on rugby, he used to train Llanelli juniors," Sue said. "On the Saturday afternoon when his friends were visiting they were talking about the rugby and he said, 'I watched the rugby last night, I told you this morning!' "He was even humorous the day he was dying."

Sue "knew that would be the last day".

"He died on the Saturday evening at 8 o'clock on the dot," she said.

He had fallen asleep at 6pm and never woke up. His new wife was heartbroken.

"That was the end of everything," Sue said.

"There was a lot of wailing and crying going on at that point.

"'Be strong.' They were Kev's last words." He was "a soldier to the death" who "never gave up the fight".

Their wedding, on October 22, 2010, was happy despite everything. I got to marry the person I loved for so long," Sue said. "But they ended up being the last hours I had with him."

Within a week, the funeral was held at Llanelli Crematorium.

"That was horrendous," Sue said. "It was surreal. The week just went. I don't think there were any emotions. It was just back and forth to the undertaker."

The Welsh flag was draped over his coffin on the day of the funeral. A bugle was sounded and Sue's daughter rode a horse in front of the cortege.

Now Sue has a "memorial tattoo" on her back.

"It's a phoenix. A phoenix is a symbol of rising to life because he rose in life to where he was and I believe he is in the sky somewhere now," she said.

Now Sue, who works for insurance firm Admiral, raises money for Singleton Hospital's Golau Cancer Foundation in honour of Kev and pal Jackie Keen who died from cancer a year before.

After Kev's death, another friend, Catherine Millin, lost her fight to breast cancer.

Sue and four colleagues are planning to do the London2Brighton Challenge - a 65-mile walk on May 25 and 26.

"I'll imagine Kev being there at the finish line urging me to keep going on. At the end of every challenge I do I always cry because he is not there."

A friend told Sue he would be "so proud" of her.

"I know he is there watching me," she said.


Sue Rees, from Carmarthenshire, married Kevin Rees, inset with Sue, just hours before he died from cancer

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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 5, 2013
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