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The man with the big smile

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By Fiona Reid
Farming
The man with the big smile

VISITORS to Dumfries Show looking for Graham Nichol were always told to keep an eye out for the man with the big smile.

For he was someone who loved life and lived it to the full.

“His big thing was ‘what’s the worst that can happen?,” said wife Niomi.

“He loved life, he ploughed his heart and soul into it.”

And Graham packed a lot of fun into his 59 years before he passed away last month from bowel cancer.

He adored his job at Arla, where he had worked since leaving school and was particularly proud of being part of the team behind Lockerbie Cheddar.

Food in general, and local producers, were another passion and he was well known among the region’s farming community.

So it was a natural step for him to get involved with Dumfries Show, firstly setting up the cheese competition, before developing it into a successful food festival.

It was there that he met Niomi and their friendship blossomed into romance four years ago, culminating in a fairytale wedding earlier this year.

His cancer diagnosis meant they only had a few months of married life together, but the couple filled it with memories and adventures.

And it’s those happy times and her husband’s relentlessly positive outlook that is now sustaining Niomi through her grief.

She said: “Life should not stop, he said that to me. It has to keep going on and I have to have every life experience I can, he was adamant.

“We spent the last two years making memories and I would say to everyone, make those memories, they do not come around again.”

Describing Graham, who was born and brought up in Lochmaben, she said: “He was everything, he was perfect, we had a perfect relationship.

“I have lost my husband, best friend, my conscience, my confidante.”

A keen golfer, Graham also liked to travel and dance and would give anything a go, including a short bout of weightlifting.

Food was a big focus, with Niomi saying: “He was incredibly proud of knowing where food came from. He was just always really interested in Dumfries and Galloway and really proud of where he came from.

“A lot of our memories are food related actually.”

Even in his last few weeks, he was still keen to travel, taking the family to London for a blow out trip, staying in a five star hotel and booking a top restaurant.

And Niomi plans to fulfil his other travel dreams and go to Vienna and return to Monaco, a place they both loved.

She also hopes that what has happened to her beloved husband will highlight the importance of testing and screening.

She said: “If Graham had found that cancer years before when it first started to develop he most probably would be here today. Bowel cancer is entirely treatable if caught early.

“He had so many plans and such a zest for life, it feels like he has been shortchanged.

“It was brutal, cancer just destroys lives.

“So the message is do the test. It’s so quick. Be it a smear, bowel, screening or self examination, they take minutes.”

Graham’s first noticed something amiss with his health in summer 2020 after changes to his bowel habits.

Following several GP visits, he was sent to DGRI in January 2021 and on World Cancer Day, February 4, he was officially diagnosed.

Initially the prognosis was good and the cancer was not thought to be aggressive, so Graham was hopeful and told Niomi: “We have a long journey ahead of us and it will be rocky”.

But he still faced gruelling treatment in Edinburgh to try and shrink the tumour so it could be cut out in. However, the discovery of more in his lungs meant the operation was cancelled and he was given six rounds of chemotherapy instead.

Niomi said: “The bowel cancer grew and in August 2021 they said it was said no longer stage two, but stage four and terminal.

“They said he would get treatment to maintain life but it could be months or years. Nobody knew.”

HAPPIEST DAY . . . the couple’s wedding at Kinmount

The couple, and Niomi’s children Niamh and Struan, made the most of Christmas 2021 and also threw themselves into wedding plans.

Originally set for August 2022, the big day was moved forward to February.

“Our wonderful photographer Vicky from Willow and Wild, along with Victoria from Kinmount, pulled together the wedding in three weeks and it was incredible,” said Niomi.

“The day was a celebration, just about us. Graham was shattered come the end of the night but he loved it.”

There were more good times as he rallied over the summer after a stoma was fitted.

“He had a phenomenal summer, you would not think he was sick sometimes,” said Niomi. “It was warm and he was outside and was on a real high. It gave us false hope.”

She even started planning joint a party to celebrate her 40th, his 60th and their first wedding anniversary.

“He kept bouncing back. His hair grew back and he put on bit of weight,” she said. “I am grateful we had that.”

In autumn Graham decided against any more treatment. He passed away on November 19 at home in Kirkcudbright with family around him.

His self arranged funeral was held in Lochmaben and he’s buried in the town’s cemetery with his parents.

Niomi said: “He planned it in minute detail, he wanted a big send off, like the Queen’s. We had to cut it down in the end!”

She is now trying to pick up the pieces and has found some comfort among the widowed community on Twitter, where she has 7500 followers after sharing her devastating journey.

Friends and family have rallied but, despite all the support, she describes her grief as ‘horrific’ and said: “It’s crushing, I did not know that heartbreak was real, it’s physically painful.”

MR FOOD . . . Graham was convenor of the food festival at Dumfries Show

Tentatively looking ahead, Niomi hopes to do a fundraising walk in spring for Marie Curie, as well as returning to work as a manager with the Third Sector in January. She will also aptly step into her husband’s shoes as the convenor for the Dumfries Show food festival.

“I am totally stunned to be a widow at 39. But Graham would never have wanted life to stop, he loved life, he was such a positive person.” she said.

“I would say to everyone: make memories, just do it.”

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