As a long-term resident, Emmerdale’s cafe owner Bob Hope has seen his fair share of heartache on screen but unbeknown to the viewers, in real-life actor Tony Audenshaw was dealing with his own drama as his beloved wife Ruth lost her battle with pancreatic cancer.
While Bob Hope‘s on-screen with Brenda battled a brain tumour, Tony and Ruth received the devastating news two years ago and despite pioneering surgery in Germany the cancer spread to her liver and she died in April this year, aged just 43.
Speaking to the Mirror, Tony is determined to share Ruth’s story as her final wish was to raise awareness of the disease and the support provided by charities like Pancreatic Cancer UK.
On hearing the news that Ruth only had months to live, Tony says: “I remember being very quiet as we walked to the hospital car park, then breaking down in the car. Before, we worried about forgetting to put the bin out. Now Ruth was going to be dead within a year after a horrible illness.
“She knew it was too late for her, but she wanted to help others. Two weeks before she died she had some of her cells harvested to be used in research trials. They might be pivotal in some kind of breakthrough. I have to hope so.
“That’s what Ruth was all about. She was a brilliant person. She was so brave. It’s really unfair that she’s gone, but my life was enriched so much by spending 24 years with her.”
Like Tony, Ruth was an endurance runner and didn’t smoke making her death seems all the more unfair as she did not smoke, and kept fit by running through the Peak District near their Derbyshire home. The couple even met at a fitness class in 1993.
Tony says: “Ruth used to be down the front, I was at the back admiring her. Then I saw her in the pub and said hello. We hit it off and I invited her to Blackpool on a date.”
Tony and Ruth married three years later and Ruth soon joined Tony running marathons for charity and the couple were making retirement plans shortly before Ruth became ill. She had felt “off colour” for a few months before being diagnosed, but there were no obvious warning signs.
She grew tired more easily and her appetite shrank, both possible symptoms, but easily overlooked
After she became jaundiced, a scan found a blurred shape in her abdomen. Tony says: “Ruth went, ‘I’m f****d’. I tried to reassure her that we didn’t know it was cancer, but she had Googled her symptoms and convinced herself it was.”
Ruth was right. She was diagnosed with stage three adenocarcinoma and the pair had to break the awful news to their children George, 22, and Em, 20.
Tony says: “We spent loads of time together and that made us even closer as a family. I don’t know where I’d have been over the last year without the kids. It’s unbearable to think about.”
Ruth started chemotherapy in early 2016, hoping the tumour would shrink enough for surgeons to remove it. But the outlook was bleak. Less than 7% of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive beyond five years.
At first Ruth planned to have pioneering NanoKnife treatment in London. Then she went to a hospital in Heidelberg, Germany, where docs remove tumours deemed inoperable elsewhere. It would mean taking out her duodenum, gallbladder, part of her small intestine and pancreas.
Tony says: “The surgeon said, ‘Yes, I can do it, this is your chance’.The operation sounded horrendous to me, but Ruth said, ‘I want it done’. She might die on the table, but from her point of view it was worth it because it gave her a chance.” Ruth had the op in May last year, after writing goodbye letters to Tony and the kids in case anything went wrong.
Emmerdale bosses wrote Tony out of a big storyline so he could stay with Ruth in Germany as she recovered. But their hopes were dashed again.
Tony says: “They told us the cancer had spread to her liver and she had multiple tumours. It was terminal. But Ruth was incredible. She said, ‘I’ve not got long left. I’m going to enjoy my life while I can’. We treated those last months like our retirement.”
Ruth and Tony became devoted fundraisers for Pancreatic Cancer UK, organising a sold-out music show that raised £16,000 and featured Emmerdale band Main Street.
The couple also compiled questions for the Big Purple Quiz, a national fundraising event Tony is urging people to host this November for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.
Ruth spent her last weeks at home, surrounded by friends and family, and was at her side when her life came to an end. He also has the letter Ruth wrote before her operation.
“It is comforting reading her words, you can hear her voice,” he says. “There were awful moments in those last months, but we had a lot of laughs too. Ruth tried to be positive and live her life until the end, she wanted other people to know that is possible.”
If you require more information about pancreatic cancer or are concerned about any symptoms you or a loved one might have, please call and speak to one of the nurses on our Support Line (0808 801 0707), visit pancreaticcancer.org.uk/support or make an appointment to see your local GP.
To sign up for the Big Purple Quiz for Pancreatic Cancer UK visit