Tragic death of Leeds dad who didn't know his headaches were sign of brain cancer

The devastated widow of a Leeds dad diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer at the start of the Covid pandemic has told of her family's "horrendous" experience after his death aged 47.

By Mark Lavery
Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 11:40 am
Joanne Coles, with her son Max Coles, aged 12 and daughter Abigail Peacock, 22. Photo: James Hardisty

Dad-of-two Matthew Coles, of Garforth, discovered he was terminally ill at the start of April 2020 and died on December 27.

Matthew's widow Joanne, 41, said the diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic was a lonely journey for him and his family.

Joanne, a former secondary school teacher in Leeds, wants to make people aware of the early symptoms of brain cancer in the hope that lives may be saved.

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Matthew Coles with wife Joanne

And Joanne, who now works as a teacher trainer, has launched a crowdfunding campaign which has so far raised £2,500 to be shared between St Gemma's Hospice and two animal charities

Matthew - a development chemist at Rosemont Pharmaceuticals in Holbeck - had been suffering on and off headaches at the end of 2019, but was still working and did not think it was anything to worry about.

But during the last two weeks February 2020, he was suffering constant headaches.

On Saturday February 29, Joanne dialled 111 after Matthew was physically sick and he was taken to St James's Hospital by ambulance.

Matthew Coles pictured with his son Max and stepdaughter Abigail Peacock.

A scan revealed he had a tumour on his brain and in early March he underwent surgery at Leeds General Infirmary, when the majority of the tumour was removed.

But surgeons could not remove all of the tumour.

At the start of April, Matthew was told he had aggressive brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme and that it was terminal.

Joanne said: "They (the headaches) were't severe enough to stop him working. It was just like he had a constant headache that didn't go away. It only became severe on February 29.

Matthew Coles

"He started waking with headaches. Over the next two weeks the headaches just didn't go away."

Speaking about his diagnosis in April, Joanne said: "It was a complete shock and incredible anxiety for him and our family and our children.

"It was just overwhelmingly sad for him. He was 46 when he found out he wasn't going to be alive for much longer."

Matthew and Joanne have a 12-year-old son, Max, and Matthew has a son Harry, 21, from a previous relationship.

Joanne Coles Photo: james Hardisty

He is also step dad to Joanne's 22 year old daughter Abigail.

Joanne said Abigail was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia when she was aged 12 and underwent successful treatment before being declared cancer free in 2016.

Joanne said it was a very different experience having a family member suffering from cancer during the pandemic.

Abigail's family was able to be with her and support her in hospital and relatives could visit her at home.

Joanne said: "Matthew's journey as a brain cancer patient was very lonely. Even though we had a team of people to help us it was tough."

"It has been absolutely horrendous. It has taken something that is the worst possible thing that could happen to the family and it has just made it so much more difficult.

"All those support networks that we should have had and people who could have come to the house and been able to go with him for treatment at hospital were not there because of the restrictions."

Matthew underwent radiotherapy five days a week for six weeks, from the middle of May.

Joanne said: "I spent six weeks when he was having radiotherapy and sat in the multi storey car park. It was hard in that respect, because I couldn't be with him."

A scan at the start of October showed the tumour had reformed and was growing again.

Matthew's condition deteriorated in late November and, on December 16, he was admitted to St Gemma's Hospice.

Joanne was by his side for the next ten days and was with him when he died at the hospice on December 27.

Joanne said: "St Gemma's were wonderful. The family support team has been brilliant. They looked after me as well as Matthew."

She said: "He was incredibly caring and kind and he loved animals.

"He was my best friend and such a wonderful person. It is a tragedy that he has been taken from us far too soon."

Joanne said all money raised from the crowdfunding appeal will be shared between St Gemma's, Castleford Hedgehog Rescue and fox rescue charity The Fox Man.

Click here to donate to the 'In Memory of Matthew Coles' GoFundMe crowdfunding appeal.