"I knew it wasnt good when I was taken into a room with lots of crosses on the wall and the consultant came in with two support nurses. "
Chef Keith Dobson
There’s a sign outside the new ‘summer’ house at the Bosworth Place, Squires Gate base of N-Vision, the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind.
It reads Keith’s Cabin. There’s a Santa Gnome standing vigil outside – wearing a chef’s hat. The chef’s hat belongs to former Royal Navy chef Keith Dobson.
Terminal cancer has forced Keith to hang his chef’s hat up but the sign, summer house, even that gnome (“can’t stand gnomes but I’ve warmed to this one”) are tributes to a first rate chef who has literally paved the way for an all-weather activity hub for all service users at the sight loss support charity’s HQ , including those closest to Keith’ heart, the residents of the Princess Alexandra Home.
Keith, 65, and wife Carol, 60, who live in Blackpool, married earlier this year and asked for money for the charity’s summer house appeal to be given in lieu of wedding gifts.
They raised £1000.
“Face it, what can I do with three toasters?” adds Keith.
Their marriage had already been brought forward because of Keith’s cancer battle.
“We’ve known each other 15 years; marriage was always on the cards, but we planned to marry when Carol was 60 and go on a cruise for our honeymoon. After my diagnosis, we decided not to hang around. And we cancelled the honeymoon.”
The couple faced further shattering news with the sudden loss of Carol’s hearing.
Keith explains: “Carol lost her hearing in hours. They think it was a virus. She had just turned 60. She has hearing aids, but they are to help her when speaking – not to hear others. No, we’re not a couple who do things by halves.”
Chef Keith is determined to make the most of his borrowed time. He’s already outlived his consultant’s six-month prognosis by two months.
A simple bowel cancer test – the sort sent through the post every two years from the age of 60 (it will change to 50) - raised the alert.
A second test followed, then a biopsy. “I knew it wasn’t good when I was taken into a room with lots of crosses on the wall and the consultant came in with two support nurses. How bad on a scale of one to 10, I asked. About nine, he said. I took it on the chin.”
Five courses of chemotherapy followed – with the hope of a lifesaving operation on return from the wedding.
Instead they got the bombshell news: “It’s spread. It’s everywhere. There’s nothing we can do. I’m sorry.”
Keith adds: “I had five courses of chemo and hoped I was doing well. I should have had a sixth course, but the consultant phoned and said, ‘go away and get married and we’ll discuss the op on return.’ But there was no return. It’s a small cancer but a nasty one that sends cancer cells everywhere.”
Keith has taken the prognosis in his stride. “I won’t take strong painkillers – although the pain is terrible – because that would be giving in. it’s not me. It would be easy to be an emotional wreck. I do have woe-is-me days but I’m more positive than negative. I could get run over by a bus tomorrow. Instead I’ve been able to get things in order, make my funeral arrangements, sort out the Forces flag, know who the pall bearers are – I want to get it done my way and make things easier for those I love.
“And we’ve been able to help this fantastic charity; we’re part of their family. And, at my GPs there’s a poster up with my contact details offering support to anyone who’s been recently diagnosed. No takers yet.
“There’s nothing to be done other than carry on until I can’t. Meantime, it’s all about living with the positives, not the negatives.”
Keith’s independent company, Complete Catering, has been on site at N-Vision for about 10 years. It provides all the tasty meals for residents of the care home, as well as the sight loss support charity’s weekly gatherings and special events and functions.
“The very first thing we did – when we took over - was give residents a proper choice. Food is a real highlight for them, and they now have five choices for every single meal including vegetarian. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved.”
Keith runs a tight ship, with five-star accreditation from the Food Standards Agency. Chefs Ryan Green and Norman Taylor joined his crew as apprentices eight to nine years ago. As with the charity, where almost 30 per cent of the staff have served for more than 10 years, Keith’s chefs have been loyal.
“He’s like a second dad to us all,” says Shane O’Loan, fellow director, who’s been at the helm since Keith stood down.
N-Vision invited Keith and wife Carol to cut the ribbon to Keith’s Cabin, later joined by charity duty officer and volunteer coordinator Trish Hothersall and family – Trish having recruited her family to get the summer house up once the Dobson’s wedding fund had paved the way. “We couldn’t leave the summer house in pieces until the worst of the weather hit,” says Trish. The family worked flat out over one of the wettest weekends in summer.
Seeing the Keith’s Cabin plaque almost broke the chef who tries to keep emotions under check. “I had to turn away the first time I saw it. I was so moved,” he admits. Tears were in freefall from all gathered at the opening ceremony.
Princess Alexandra Home care services manager Elaine Wright paid tribute to both families – and others, relatives of residents, care workers at the home, who had played their part too. “We can’t thank them enough.”
Now it’s up to others to build on that legacy. The building has to be insulated, boarded, windows replaced, electrics installed, made fully accessible and kitted out as an activity hub. It will also be used by Urban Organic CiC – when their own polytunnel gets too draughty! – for the garden club and workshops involving residents and other regulars at the charity.
N-Vision hopes to rally support, funding or help in kind, from the wider community.
N-Vision chief executive Ruth Lambert concludes: “The utter selflessness of those going through personal challenges never fails to amaze and move me. It’s a really important lesson in perspective for the rest of us.
“And this really is the Christmas gift that will keep giving.”