"How can I tell my girls that Daddy won't see them grow up?"

BBC drama Casualty has recently aired a heart-rending storyline in which Glen had to break it to his girlfriend Robyn that he had a brain tumour.

For former Casualty star Holly Matthews, 31, it is reality as her husband Ross Blair has been battling an incurable brain tumour.

Here Holly, tells her story.

If you'd seen my husband Ross Blair and me splashing about in the swimming pool in Marbella with my little girls you'd think we look like any other happy family enjoying their summer holiday.
But making memories with her daughters Brooke, five, and Texas, three, is extra precious as time is running out for Ross. Right now, he looks like the same gorgeous, healthy man I've always known and I just want to freeze frame these joyous family snaps in my mind. But in February 2014 he was diagnosed with a rare aggressive malignant brain tumour and given a 50-50 chance of surviving five years. After surgery and 11 months of chemo and radiotherapy we just got on with our lives and Ross had scans every three months. However in May, we were told his tumour was growing again. He is now having more surgery on Thursday, August 4, and doctors have warned us that risks include stroke, paralysis, blindness and death. But we feel it's a risk worth taking to buy more time with us. When Ross was first diagnosed, doctors ticked the box that said treatment was aiming to 'cure', not the 'prolong life' box. We clung on to that for reassurance. Now we are in the 'prolong' box. At 31, I've had conversations with my husband I never imagined at my age. Despite his prognosis, I cannot face the word widow.
When I met Ross, also 31, eight years ago - both dressed up in our red Pimms hoodies for a promotion – there was an instant attraction. He was confident, quirky and very similar to me. I'd been acting since I was 11, portraying Emma Miller in BBC children's drama Byker Grove for seven years with Ant 'n Dec; and his dad is ex-Aston Villa player Andy Blair, so we'd had similar upbringings. It was just easy. Before I met Ross, if anyone talked about love at first sight, I cringed. But from the moment we met, that was it - his friends called us Rolly. The next day, I left Essex to move in with him in Coventry. He was different. Very black and white and always spoke his mind, which rubbed some people up the wrong way. Three years later, I became pregnant and Brooke was born on 15 March, 2011. Right from the start, Ross was a brilliant, hands-on dad. But he started suffering low moods and became very depressed when Brooke was about six months old. The GP prescribed antidepressants and he also had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and went to meditation classes. He had good and bad days. When Brooke was 11 months old, we got married. As always, we did it our way. Shunning any notion of wearing a meringue or a big do, we didn't tell a soul. Only our two witnesses were with us at Coventry registry office in February 2012. As Brooke played on the floor, we exchanged rings. I wore a white hoodie with a red dress printed on it and Ross wore his dad's old football shirt from his Sheffield Wednesday days.
Afterwards, we went for a cuppa and a scone. Perfect! No fuss, just us. When Brooke was 14 months old, Ross was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. We were relieved. Having a 'label' helped us understand how his mind works. Texas was born on February 24, 2013. Ross had days when he was snappy or withdrawn. Again we assumed it was his condition that made it hard for him to adjust to being a dad-of-two.
But, looking back, I think they were symptoms of his brain tumour. Around December 2013, I had just finished filming a two-parter for BBC 1's Casualty portraying rape victim Gina Timpson and Ross was becoming increasingly depressed.
He was very tired, often falling asleep during the day and found it too stressful to look after both girls by himself. He then began having excruciating headaches - he called them 'ice pick headaches'. Ross ran his own football kit business so thankfully could choose his own hours. At first I told him off for not drinking enough water. Then I made him an appointment at the GP. He was told it was migraines and put on a waiting list for a headache clinic. After being prescribed painkillers, he was told to come back after a week. A few days later, Ross's headaches were getting worse, so we went to A & E at University Hospital Coventry. Again we were told migraines and sent home. During a follow-up call, the GP said the next time the headaches came on, to call and they'd give us a letter to go straight to hospital. One morning a week later, Ross woke up in agony with a headache. When he got up, he couldn't keep his balance. 'I feel dizzy, Holly,' he said. 'And I've got spots in front of my eyes.'
Then he started vomiting. I had already called the GP and the hospital was waiting for us. But he was so drowsy and weak. I'm 5ft 1ins and just over seven stone, so I couldn't lift Ross to get him into the car. I rang for an ambulance and my sister-in-law Ashley came to look after the girls. During the 20-minute drive, despite his pain, he still tried to crack jokes. I had a gut feeling it was serious, but I never once thought of a brain tumour. At hospital, he had CT and MRI scans. Late that evening, doctors came to see Ross, me and his mum Dionne. One look at his face and I knew it was bad news. 'I'm very sorry to tell you we have found a brain tumour,' he said.
They said they'd operate on the egg-sized tumour and then Ross would have to have chemo and radiotherapy. Stunned, I felt like I was sinking into the floor. Thinking his mum would buckle, I looked over, maybe to catch her. I saw my shock reflected in her eyes. Ross was shocked, too, but calm. He just asked what the next stage was. Dionne drove me home in silence. Back in the house, I saw a head cooling pack for Ross's headaches on the kitchen table and I almost laughed. To think we were using it to try to ease pain caused by a brain tumour. After my Casualty role attracted interest, I'd got my big break with a film role playing a footballer's wife. Filming was due to start the next week, but I phoned my agent to tell her I couldn't do it. Everything had to stop. All that mattered was Ross. Our family and friends rallied round to help with the girls. Ross organised a schedule – that's when his Aspergers was useful! Waiting while Ross had his five-hour operation in February 2014, seemed like forever. Adrenaline pumped through my body. This time, I have vowed to take my trainers and run it off. They removed most of the tumour, but had to leave some. Just four days later, Ross came home. He was tired and on steroids which made him short-tempered. Two weeks later, we went back to find out if the tumour was cancerous. Deep down, I already knew... Biopsy tests showed it was a rare grade 4 primitive neuro-ectodermal tumour (PNET) which is normally found in children. We were referred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Ross had six weeks of radiotherapy to full head and spine, followed by chemotherapy for eight months. During his treatment Ross was so strong. When he lost his hair, he joked; 'I didn't have much of it anyway!' At three and nearly one, Brooke and Texas were too young to understand. Brooke just thought when Daddy got his hair back, he would be allowed to drive again. Until this year, Ross's tumour has been stable, although, since surgery, he has suffered seizures every three or four months.
He's found it hard to be more reliant on me and hated giving up driving – to be more exact, he hates being a passenger while I'm driving! But, we have lived a fairly normal life until now… Finding out Ross' tumour has grown was even harder this time. We'd lived in a bubble for two-and-half years and suddenly here was a huge wake up call. After the appointment, we just sat in the hospital car park in silence. Then Ross asked me where I wanted to live when he's no longer with me. Where 'I' wanted to live. That's when I broke down. I don't want to be an I. I want to be an us. As usual, Ross has taken it in his stride – I believe his autism and black and white view of the world has helped him to cope. We are sorting out practical stuff like power of attorney. But being honest with the girls is the hardest part. How can I tell my little girls – Texas who looks like a mini-Ross and Brooke who has the same strength of character - that the daddy they adore, who treats them like little adults and makes them crack up in giggles - won't be around to see them grow up? But I will answer their questions honestly when they ask in their own time. My main focus is to keep a positive mindset, although here is a fine line between hope and being realistic. Ross has made it easy for us because he doesn't feel sorry for himself. He's bored of cancer, he just wants to live. As an actress, I'm used to dealing with life head-on and there is zero room for negativity. I need strength around me, not pity. We refuse to be victims.This cruel disease can happen to anyone and it does, every day.
That's why I am supporting The Brain Tumour Charity which funds research to find a cure for brain tumours which is the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40 in the UK. I want to help other people and achieve something positive out of our heartache. I put up a Facebook post and the response was incredible. Nearly 100,000 people saw it and loads shared it. I have been so touched by emails from people going through similar experiences and letters from people who've seen me on TV shows like Waterloo Road, when I played bully Leigh-Ann Galloway, over the years. Believe me, there are times when I bawl my eyes out and am gripped with fear and negativity. It doesn't last long, though, because it doesn't help.
But I will never be ready for the unimaginable of there not being a Rolly. How can I imagine being without the man who points out my spots, corrects my maths, and teases me for only being able to cook a sausage casserole? But he'll also sing my praises to anyone who will listen, tell me I'm a wonderful mother, the most beautiful woman he's ever seen and warm my bed before I get in because he knows I'm always cold.
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