TV to show brave dad's final months

A Wigan dad's ultimately fatal battle with a rare bone cancer features in a moving TV documentary screened this week.

Monday, 23rd October 2017, 9:18 am
Updated Monday, 11th December 2017, 11:15 pm
Chris on the Channel 4 programme

Chris Cowley agreed to be filmed for 12 months for a programme charting the experiences of three people with cancer.

Wife Becky had shared their story online via her blog and videos, and production company Amos Pictures got in touch.

They let the cameras into their home and hospital ward, documenting the Orrell 35-year-old’s fight with Ewing’s sarcoma.

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Chris Cowley with wife Becky and children Lily and Sam

{|Devoted dad, 35, loses battle with cancer

Producer-director Tom Pursey said: “He felt that if it could help just one person, if it could help raise awareness or it could help people with an approach to the disease and people could take something from that, it was worth doing.”

Chris was diagnosed on Christmas Eve 2015, after months thinking a problem with his ankle was a sports injury and then gout.

He had chemotherapy and his leg was amputated in May last year. He was determined to walk on his prosthetic leg by Christmas and walked out of hospital that November with no sign of the disease.

Chris Cowley with wife Becky and children Lily and Sam

But just a few weeks later, he suffered back pain and scans showed he had secondary cancer in his back and lungs. He was told he might have two years to live, if doctors could get it under control.

Chris had more treatment but stopped chemo in September when he had a reaction to it and developed an infection. He died in hospital on October 10 with Becky at his side, just two weeks before the TV programme would be aired.

Tom followed the ups and downs as he filmed Chris, Becky and their two children.

He had decided to make a documentary following people with cancer after hearing about Charlotte Eades, a teen with cancer who posted videos online about her experiences.

He discovered Becky’s blog and felt Chris would be ideal for the Channel 4 programme.

Tom said Chris had “a look of terror” when he first told him about the concept, but agreed to take part in a bid to help others. And when filming began, he said Chris was “a complete natural” in front of the camera.

Filming began properly in June last year, when Chris was recovering from the amputation and getting ready to start chemotherapy.

It captured Chris learning to walk, the moment he went home with his prosthetic leg for the first time and getting ready to celebrate Christmas with his family after finishing treatment.

But that was followed by a tough interview when Chris discovered he had secondary cancer.

Tom said: “That interview I think will always stick in my mind. He was completely different in his tone, the way he spoke. He was a very upbeat guy and he was down.”

Chris continued to battle the disease and he and Becky decided to renew their wedding views in the summer.

Tom said: “The last day of the filming was the wedding. It was a very moving and touching ceremony. His closest friends and family were there.

“He said in the film he didn’t want it to be down and everyone crying, he wanted it to be a happy occasion where everyone is having a good time. It was his last chance to get all his friends and family in the same place.

“The ceremony itself was very lovely, very moving with a lot of lovely speeches from his friends and family There were tears shed during the ceremony itself, but the party afterwards was great and everyone had a great time.”

Chris and Tom became good friends during filming and made plans to watch their beloved football teams - Wigan Athletic and Shrewsbury Town - when they met in League One.

The last time Tom saw Chris was when he watched the documentary in September.

He said it “wasn’t an easy watch” for Chris and Becky and he found the first half of the programme, filmed before the cancer spread, particularly difficult.

Tom hopes the programme will make a real impact.

He said: “I would hope people will see how life goes on and that you can still make memories, in the words of Becky, whilst having cancer.

“Cancer can take a lot from you, but you can still have days out, you can still have life and laughter, there’s still a lot of love you can give and receive in that time.”

Fighting Cancer: My Online Diary will be broadcast on Channel 4 at 10.50pm on Thursday as part of the Stand Up For Cancer campaign.