Looking at the recent pictures of Holly Matthews and her family on holiday in Marbella, you’d never know the secret heartbreak the family is facing.
Although Holly, daughters Brooke and Texas and husband Ross look like an average happy family soaking up the sunshine, Ross is battling an incurable brain tumour, and Holly is coming to terms with the fact that she won’t get to spend the rest of her life with him – and that he won’t get to see their girls grow up.
In an article for the Daily Mail, Holly, who has starred in shows including Byker Grove, Waterloo Road and Casualty – which recently ran a remarkably similar storyline around the illness – has bravely shared their story, and says that she hopes to raise awareness of the condition that’s impacted her family so personally.
‘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,’ Holly says.
Since his diagnosis, Ross has undergone surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, but still his tumour continued to grow, and is now deemed to be incurable.
‘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,’ she adds, noting that future surgeries are just ‘buying time’.
‘At 31, I’ve had conversations with my husband I never imagined at my age. Despite his prognosis, I cannot face the word widow.’
She explains that while losing her husband is hard enough, one of the most difficult aspects is her girls, who were three and one at the time of Ross’ diagnosis, becoming old enough to understand what is happening.
‘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.’
Ross now faces further treatment to prolong his life as much as possible, and Holly is remaining as positive as she can – ‘although there is a fine line between hope and being realistic,’ she says.
She’ll also be supporting The Brain Tumour Charity, to fund research into brain tumours, which are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40 in the UK.
‘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,’ Holly concludes.
‘Although I allow myself moments of preparation for the worst, my main focus is on the right now. Ross is here now and it’s the now we’re living in.
‘Happiness is a choice and, so even through all of this, we are happy.’