A Burley man who transformed his life following the death of his much-loved grandmother is taking on the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon to raise funds for the hospice that cared for her at the end of her life.
“From as far back as I can remember I have always spent a lot of time with my nana – I was always round at her house and she really looked after me,” says 30-year-old Ashley Dee.
“She was more like another parent to me than a grandparent. Growing up I took a few wrong turns in life, and I had an extremely unhealthy lifestyle which included heavy drinking and smoking 30-40 cigarettes a day.
“I know that she worried about what would happen to me – she’d ring me every night before I went to bed and every morning to check I was alright.”
In 2020 Ashley’s grandmother, Anne Wilson, started becoming unwell and after seeing her GP she was referred to the hospital for a scan, which revealed that she had brain cancer.
“The doctors gave her six months to live, and it felt like someone had torn a hole in my heart,” Ashley said. “During that time, alongside my family, the roles were reversed, and I had to care for her in the way she had always done for me – it was something I never thought I would have to do.”
In her final weeks, Anne received expert end-of-life care and support from Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice in Headingley.
“We were so grateful for the support of the hospice’s community team, who regularly visited her at home to provide care and phoned us daily to make sure we were all OK.
“There was one particular Sue Ryder Nurse, Sarah, who had also cared for my grandad six years previously, and I think it was comforting for my nana to see a familiar face. Because of the amazing care my grandad had received, she’d always said that if the time came, she wanted to be cared for by Sue Ryder too.
“She was admitted to the hospice for a couple of weeks for some specialist care, but it was always her wish to die at home and the Sue Ryder Nurses helped to make sure that could happen. She died on the 13 October, just a few days after coming home, in the same place as my grandad.”
After her death, Ashley struggled to cope with his grief.
“I was in a really bad place. My OCD was out of control, my depression was at an all-time high. I just spent days just lying on the sofa and I wasn’t dealing with it,” he said. “Eventually, after suggestions from friends and family, I decided to get out and start walking and I just noticed the weight falling off me.
“I knew my nana would have loved to see me changing my life for the better as she was always so worried about me and keen for me to improve my health and lifestyle. She’d told me that she was worried I wouldn’t make it to 30.”
Ashley says that exercise has not only benefited him physically but improved his mental health too.
“The more I walked the more I enjoyed it, and from there I started running and going to the gym. I went from not being able to walk for 20 seconds without coughing and lighting up a cigarette, to now running 10k or 15k without a problem.
“Getting more active has also massively impacted my mental health for the better. I’d got to a stage where I had stopped being invited to family occasions or out with friends because they didn’t like the person I was. But I am a totally different man now – I live a very clean lifestyle and have completely stopped smoking and drinking.”
Ashley hopes he can inspire others to make positive changes in their lives, especially if they are dealing with the loss of a loved one.
“I would really encourage anyone dealing with grief to consider getting more active – whether it is going for a walk, a run or spending time in the gym. For me, it helped to keep my mind busy and channel my emotion into something positive.”
He is now preparing to take on the challenge of the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon on the 14th of May – his first-ever marathon – and will be raising money for Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice to say thank you for the care his grandmother received.
“I used to look at people who ran marathons and think ‘you’re mad doing that’ and now here I am! This is the first sporting challenge I’ve ever done and I’m starting with a full marathon – go big or go home!
“On the race day it’s going to be a challenge being around so many people as I’m not good with busy environments and normally run and train alone, but I’m going to be supported by all my family and I’ll be wearing a necklace with my nana’s ashes in it to push me on. I really believe that she has made this happen. She always wanted me to become a better man and I think this is the right way to prove to her how far I have come in life. My nana saw me at my worst – I just wish she could have seen me at my best.”
Ashley hopes to raise at least £1,000 for Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice. Donate to his fundraising page here.