From the moment Jon Turner met Rach, the course of his life changed forever.
He’d often tell Rach she’d given his life meaning and he felt like the luckiest man alive.
The pair met 22 years ago, as youngsters working at Wolverhampton greyhound stadium.
Years later, as he tucks his daughters up in bed at night, they ask him to repeat the story of how Mum and Dad fell in love.
‘We met in a paddock, surrounded by dogs.
'Rach cut her hand and I gave her a plaster.
'That gave us an excuse to start talking and, two weeks later, I built up the courage to ask her out for a drink,’ Jon tells us.
‘I was only 21 and still a Jack-the-lad.
'Rach was a little younger, but she knew what she wanted from life.
'She gave me everything I am now, everything I have, including our daughters, Jessica, 11, and Freya, seven.’
The couple settled in the West Midlands and had their first daughter Jessica.
In October 2010, they went to Australia to visit Rach’s sister Sarah, who lived on the Gold Coast.
There, they decided to marry on the beach, with Sarah, Rach’s other sister Emma and her partner Dan, as guests.
‘We spent the evening walking around Surfers Paradise with Jessica, eating burgers for dinner,’ Jon says.
‘A year later, Freya arrived.
'Life felt perfect.’
Then, in July 2015, when Rach was 39, she found a lump in her breast.
Two months later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which had already spread to the lymph nodes.
‘Our happy little world collapsed,’ Jon says.
‘I was terrified of what might lay ahead, but Rach was more worried about me and the girls than herself.
'I’ll never forget the day we got home from that first diagnosis.
'The girls were at school so it was just us.
'We sat on the steps of the patio, arm in arm, and we cried.
'I was so scared I was going to lose my world.
'That’s what Rach was – she was my world.’
Rach wiped her tears away, stood up and made a declaration that she would never cry over cancer again.
‘Her smile returned.
'That really was the first and last time she let cancer take her tears,’ Jon says.
‘It was horrible for her to comprehend not being around for the girls as they got older, and I knew her well enough to know the smile masked her fears, but she wanted to be strong for our daughters because she knew what strength they’d need.’
At first, Jon and Rach explained to Jessica and Freya that Mummy had a poorly boobie and doctors were trying to make her better.
She started intensive chemotherapy, but it was a race between medicine and cancer.
Then it spread to Rach’s brain.
She had radiotherapy and a mastectomy, but by then it had spread to her lungs, then her bones.
‘There was no let up.
'It was just bad news after bad news.
'But while I was crumbling, Rach dealt with death as she dealt with life – smiling her beautiful smile.
'The smile that had the ability to take my breath away,’ Jon says.
By October 2017, it was clear Rach could not win the battle.
It was time to tell the girls – then nine and six – the brutal truth.
‘We took them out for dinner and told them Mummy wasn’t going to get better,’ Jon says.
‘They both cried.
'Jess asked difficult questions about what would happen to Rach and what would happen to them, but Rach had the answers.
She explained she’d be going to heaven and that I, with the help of lots of amazing family and friends, would always look after the girls.
Jess is still the talker and Freya is still too young to comprehend what’s happened.’
Rach quickly grew so ill she had to go into a hospice.
Jon brought the girls to visit her every day.
As the end neared, Rach was heavily sedated.
‘She was no longer Rach, so I made the decision not to bring the children to the hospice again.
'I wanted them to have memories of her smile, her hugs and kisses.
'Not Rach deteriorating,’ Jon says.
‘I don’t know if it was the right thing to do.
'Jess tells me she wishes she could give Rach one last hug.’
On the 4 January 2018, Rach passed away.
‘My rock, my best friend, my soulmate – gone,’ Jon says.
‘I miss her every second of every day, but in a way, I still feel Rach with me.
'A week after she died, I was staring out the kitchen window, thinking about her.
'I used to run up behind her and wrap my arms around her.
'We called it our ninja hug.
'I was standing there alone with tears welling in my eyes as I said out loud: "I miss you Rach."
'In that moment, I felt arms around my waist.
'I felt the warmth of her love.
'She was giving me a ninja hug.
'She’s still with me, in my memories and my never-ending love for her.
'She always will be.’
Making her proud
As Jon navigates the uncharted waters of solo-parenting, he believes Rach is helping him raise their daughters.
‘I can hear Rach in my head when I’m chatting to the girls.
'Jess is now a feisty pre-teen, and when we clash heads I hear Rach telling me to walk away.
'I joke that I’ll always know what to do if I just embrace my inner Rach,’ Jon says.
Rach died knowing her daughters were in good hands.
She left Jon instructions on how to change the child benefits and taxes, but when it came to raising the girls, she had only one instruction.
‘She made me promise they’d eat their vegetables,’ Jon says.
‘But as for everything else, she told me: "You’ve got this."
'Rach trusted me to carry on what we’d started – our family.’
Although, life after Rach has meant Jon has had to learn on his feet.
‘Organising breakfast clubs, school pick-ups, bills, cleaning and meal planning was an awakening,’ he says.
‘Everything falls into chaos if I’m not organised.
'But Jess and Freya often give me a hug and tell me I’m doing a great job.’
Jon knows if Rach could see their daughters now, she’d be so proud.
‘Jess is growing into the intelligent, wise girl we always knew she would be,’ Jon says.
‘Freya looks more like her mum every day.
'They still put on shows at home – the last one was a roller disco Rach would have loved.
'Everything she taught the girls to be – kind, respectful, full of humour and love – is still there.
'They are two outstanding mini versions of Rach.
'She wanted them to be strong and have courage.
'And just be kids.
'She never wanted what happened to take away their childhood.
'Rach wanted the girls to be happy.
'We will never be as happy as we were when Rach was here, but we are figuring out a new kind of happy, with Rach in our hearts in all that we do.’
* Support families like Jon’s by creating your own Pink Ribbon Walk for Breast Cancer Care in association with Skechers. Sign up by CLICKING HERE. To donate to Jon’s fundraising, CLICK HERE.
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