Devoted dad, 35, loses battle with cancer

A devoted dad-of-two whose battle with cancer inspired others has died at the age of 35.

Thursday, 19th October 2017, 12:28 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 1:01 pm
Chris Cowley with wife Becky and Children Sam and Lily

Chris Cowley, from Orrell, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2015, after first being told he had gout.

He received treatment for the aggressive disease and his leg was amputated last year, but he was so determined that he was walking with a prosthetic limb within months.

He was cancer-free in November last year, but within a few weeks more tumours appeared and he was told there was no cure.

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Chris and Becky renewed their wedding vows in June. Pictured with children Lily and Sam

Chris died on Tuesday, October 10 and is survived by his wife Becky, 36, and their two children, Lily, nine, and Sam, three.

The couple shared their experiences online, inspired people to raise money and received messages from strangers with cancer saying Chris had helped them.

It is hoped more money will be raised for good causes after he spent 12 months being filmed for a Channel 4 programme, which will be broadcast next week.

“He was hilariously funny. I don’t think anyone has ever made me laugh as much as he could and I don’t think anyone will again.”

Chris and Becky renewed their wedding vows in June. Pictured with children Lily and Sam

Those were the words of his wife Becky as she paid tribute to her husband.

The devoted dad-of-two was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer in 2015, after initially thinking he had a rugby injury.

He and Becky shared their experiences online, inspiring other people, and he will star in a Channel 4 show being screened next week.

It will be a lasting legacy for the popular sportsman, who made an impression on everyone he met.

Becky, who lives in Orrell, said: “He was a really good guy. He was really genuine and really loyal and really fun.

“He was really friendly. He wasn’t an expert in lots of subjects, but he would be able to find something you were interested in really quickly and have a conversation with it.”

Chris grew up in Standish and moved to Orrell as a teenager, attending St Marie’s Catholic Primary School, St Peter’s High School and St John Rigby College.

He then went to Edge Hill College, where he met Becky, and went on to work as a team leader for an advertising company responsible for bus stops and billboards.

Chris and Becky tied the knot in 2006 and had two children, Lily, nine, and three-year-old Sam.

Becky, 36, said: “He was the best dad. He was also a really great uncle.

“He was a hands-on dad and would get down and join tea parties with Lily when she was little.”

Chris was a keen sportsman and supported Wigan Athletic and Wigan Warriors.

He played amateur rugby league, first for Standish Eagles as a junior and then moving through the age groups at Orrell St James’.

He also coached at Orrell St James’ and players held a minute’s silence, wore pink socks and released balloons in his memory on Sunday.

Chris was keen to help others and took on several physical challenges to raise money for charities, including the Great North Run twice, a triathlon and a coast to coast bike ride.

In 2015 he took part in the Great Manchester Swim and Great Manchester Cycle just a week apart in aid of St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, where staff saved his son Sam’s life when he was born without a heartbeat.

Becky said: “He liked to challenge himself and push himself to see what he could achieve.

“If he hadn’t got poorly, he would have done an Ironman triathlon, I have no doubt.”

Chris’s health problems started in January 2015 with what he thought was a sporting injury to his ankle.

He was diagnosed with gout, but he noticed a lump in his ankle that October and went back to the doctor.

He was told he had a cancerous tumour and on Christmas Eve 2015, doctors said he had Ewing’s sarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer. Only 75 people in the UK are diagnosed with the condition each year and it is usually found in children.

Chris had 14 rounds of chemotherapy in 2016 and his leg was amputated that May.

Becky said: “That was tough going because it was quite an aggressive chemotherapy drug they used. He had to stay in hospital for three nights to have it.

“He finished that and there was no evidence of disease in November last year and he rang the bell at The Christie.

“Because he was so competitive, he challenged himself to make sure he was walking by Christmas. He was actually walking unaided on a prosthetic within three or four months of his amputation. They couldn’t believe it. He was so determined.”

Chris walked out of hospital, but just a few weeks later he started getting pain in his back.

Scans showed he had a tumour in his back, as well as two in his lung. He was given the devastating news that he had secondary cancer and might have two years to live, if doctors could get it under control.

Chris had more chemotherapy from January to June which caused the tumours to shrink, before deciding to take a break in the summer to spend time with his loved ones.

He and Becky renewed their wedding vows, they went on holiday to Spain with friends and had quality time as a family.

The chemotherapy treatment resumed in September, but Chris had a reaction to it and developed an infection, so he decided not have any more.

He went home from hospital on Thursday, October 5 and had a good weekend, but returned to hospital that Monday feeling unwell. Scans showed the tumour in his lung had grown further.

Chris died in hospital the next day, Tuesday, October 10, with Becky at his side.

A funeral will be held at 12.15pm on Thursday at St Marie’s Church in Standish. Family flowers only are requested, with any donations being given to The Christie and Wigan And Leigh Hospice.

Chris’s battle with cancer and the way he dealt with it proved to be inspiring - and more people could still be touched by his story.

Friends and family came together to raise thousands of pounds for a top-of-the-range prosthetic leg under the moniker Team Cowley.

Their biggest event was the three peaks challenge, while a fund-raising night named Let’s Get Legless For Cowley was also held along with other activities.

Becky said: “At first he didn’t know why people were fussing. He didn’t really like being the centre of attention.

“The moral support and the messages and comments and everything gave him a real boost. He didn’t feel so alone in what he was going through, that really helped.

“He got messages from people he didn’t know who had cancer saying that he had really helped them.

“I always said if we could help one person with something they are going through, then we have done alright.”

Becky also shared the family’s experiences on her blog, Diary Of A Fat Bottomed Girl, as well as videos on Facebook and YouTube.

The day before Chris had his leg amputated, she was contacted by Amos Pictures, who were putting together a show for Channel 4 as part of the Stand Up For Cancer campaign.

Becky said: “He thought if he could help one person, raise some money through that, he would be happy to do it.

“They filmed Chris through his treatment, filmed us at home, things like that, for nearly 12 months.”

Becky and Chris were given a preview of the show over the summer. She said it was “hard to watch” but they hoped it would raise a lot of money for charity.

Named Fighting Cancer: My Online Diary, it will be broadcast on Channel 4 at 10.50pm on Thursday, October 26.