A woman told her boyfriend to leave her when she learned she had cancer just days after their fourth date – but he married her instead.
Dawn Burgess’ new boyfriend Stephen Wilson attended her hospital with her, prior to their fourth date at a pub, just a fortnight after meeting on dating website, Plenty of Fish.
Concerned by a lump in her left breast, which she initially believed was caused by her implants, she was referred to a specialist at Nevill Hall Hospital, in Abergavenny.
But four days later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer .
She said: “That night I told Stephen I had cancer and said we should finish, but he said he wanted to carry on and we’d get through this. I was overwhelmed.”
Nine months afterwards – despite her telling him he should leave – Stephen, 34, a telecoms engineer, proposed and on May 28 this year they tied the knot.
“It was when Stephen vowed to stick by me that I knew he was the one,” said Dawn, who has two daughters, Imogen, 11, and Madeleine, 8.
He supported her through four months of chemotherapy and surgery to remove both breasts.
He was there for her again, when fears she could develop ovarian cancer led to her having a full hysterectomy.
And in spring 2016 they were married in a romantic ceremony at Belle Vue Park, in Newport, south Wales.
Dawn, 34, said: “I ended up having 10 bridesmaids and flower girls, because all my friends had rallied round during my treatment, so I didn’t want just one.
“Our wedding was so special. It was a celebration for now, I’d won my fight and to thank everyone for their love and support.”
The head of sixth form – currently not working, of Hengoed, South Wales, is now happily cancer-free.
Reflecting on her romance with Stephen, she said: “I told him we had to finish, when I found out about the cancer, but he said we had something and we should carry on.
“He said even if it ended, at least I’d have a new friend. He’s my guardian angel.”
Divorcee Dawn had been on several disappointing dates, since joining the Plenty of Fish dating site in the summer 2013 and was about to leave, when she met Stephen in October 2014.
So, when he expressed an interest in her, she was feeling disillusioned, adding: “I told him, if he wanted to speak to me he could call me, and I gave him my number.”
When he did, they chatted for a week before going on their first date to a restaurant in Cardiff.
They immediately hit it off and visits to a coffee shop and the cinema followed.
Then, on November 20 2014 Stephen drove Dawn to the hospital.
Dawn had booked an appointment after finding a pea-sized lump in her breast.
“I thought I had a problem with my breast implant,” she said, explaining how, in her late 20s, she’d battled with her weight.
After losing five stone and dropping from a size 20 to an eight, she’d had breast implants fitted.
“After that, I regularly checked my breasts for lumps, to make sure nothing was wrong with the implants,” she continued. “When I found the lump I thought I’d just need the implant replacing.”
But the doctor was very concerned and referred her to Nevill Hall Hospital for an immediate mammogram and biopsy.
On November 24, Dawn was diagnosed with breast cancer and told the lump in her breast was 12cm in size.
It was grade 3 breast cancer and the prognosis was poor, Dawn was told to make the following months count.
Her thoughts turned to her children and then to her blossoming relationship but despite her worries Stephen stuck by her.
That December, Dawn started the first of six rounds of chemotherapy at Velindre Cancer Centre, in Cardiff, and Stephen went with her to the majority of her appointments.
“After I started chemo, my hair began to fall out, so my daughter, Madeleine, shaved my head.
“I started 2015 bald. Stephen did too.
“It wasn’t until my hair grew back that he said he’d done it to support me. He’d done it as a secret.
“It proved to me what a man he was.”
After three rounds of chemotherapy, Dawn’s tumour seemed to be shrinking, but doctors broke the devastating news that the cancer has spread to her lymph nodes.
So, in May 2015, she had them removed and underwent a double mastectomy.
She said: “I was so relieved to get rid of my breasts. I didn’t think that I’d look disfigured – they were killing me, that’s all I knew.
“After I had my breasts removed, Stephen said he didn’t notice. He was just relieved like me.”
Two months later she started radiotherapy and looked to be getting better, until she received more bad news – doctors thought there was a chance she could develop ovarian cancer because she
carried the BRCA 1 gene.
“After that, I decided to have a full hysterectomy, too,” she said.
So, she underwent a two-hour surgery at Nevill Hall Hospital on 15 November 2015 – Stephen waiting with her the whole way.
“Stephen and I had said we’d like to have kids together, so we were gutted, but we both had some already,” she recalled.
“Stephen has a daughter, Yvie, five, from a previous relationship, so it seemed selfish to risk ovarian cancer for another baby.”
In the meantime, on 23 August 2015 – just nine months after the couple’s first date and despite Dawn now facing a hysterectomy in the November – Stephen proposed at a pub after a hike to one of Dawn’s favourites places, Sgwd-yr-Eira Waterfall, in Neath.
“When we met, I was a size 12 and had good boobs. When Stephen proposed, I’d gained weight and had lost my hair and boobs.
“But he makes me feel more beautiful than anyone ever has.”
She finished: “Whenever anyone hears our story, their usual response is, ‘what a guy!’
“But Stephen believes he just did what any decent person would do. In his eyes I’m the superhero, not him.
“But he’ll always be my guardian angel for standing by me.”