Staff profile: Dr Tony Westbury

Dr Tony Westbury is a lecturer in Sports Psychology within the University’s School of Applied Sciences.
“I would have crumbled without my colleagues, absolutely crumbled. The whole institution has just been so kind and thoughtful and compassionate. When Ailsa was diagnosed with breast cancer there were things I just couldn’t get over, things like your job as a dad is to make sure that bad stuff doesn't happen, and it had. And so for probably the first year of Ailsa being treated I just walked around in a daze. There were lots of deadlines and meetings missed, but I was just so grateful that people weren't making a fuss.

“At the end of October 2016 we learned that the cancer had spread to Ailsa’s brain and her condition deteriorated rapidly. In my psychology text books, it always says at the top of the section about stressful life events that the death of a spouse is the very worst, most stressful thing that can happen, but trust me it's not. The very worst thing, the very, very worst thing, is going home to tell your kids that their mum is going to die. That was just awful.”

Admitted to the Margaret Kerr Hospice Unit on Saturday afternoon, Ailsa died the following Saturday morning.

“I said to the children on the Monday night that we need to go down and see Mum because the next time we get a phonecall it will be to say she's either very close to dying or she's dying. And so we went down to see her but she was barely responsive. And then I got a phonecall at six o'clock on Tuesday morning. I was just expecting the worst, and they said, 'She's rallied overnight, she’s asking for a bottle of Prosecco and some olives, please.’ On Tuesday, Ailsa was her normal cheeky and irreverent self but we were warned that this is often how it is.

“On Thursday evening she was really poorly. She was struggling for breath and quite clearly wasn't going to bounce back again. I sat with her all night. I popped home for a shower and as they woke I asked the kids if they wanted to come down and sit with mum. Two of them said no but our middle daughter, then aged 11, said – and I'll remember this to my dying day – she said, ‘I want to come down because I want to polish her nails.’ It was amazing, absolutely amazing. So she was massaging Ailsa's hands and feet and polishing her nails. We sat with her until lunchtime, and we hadn't had anything to eat so we nipped up to have a sandwich, and whilst we were there the nurse came and said she'd passed away.

“And I didn't know what to do. So I just came up with lots and lots of daft ideas to distract the kids and that's where the fundraising came from. It was really pie in the sky to start with and then the whole thing has just grown arms and legs. I thought that if it distracts the kids, gives them a positive focus, we make a £100, I'm happy. And then my daughter said, nah - we need to raise £10,000. And as of last week we're over £11,000. It's overwhelming and humbling, just the kindness and genuine thoughtfulness and love that people have shown us. It's been astonishing.”