A former soldier from Derbyshire who bravely battled cancer for years longer than doctors expected has passed away.
Tributes have been paid to courageous Ken Pensom, from Hartshorne, who defied medical experts time and time again while fighting bowel cancer.
And the 72-year-old even had his family thinking that “he was going to live forever”.
However, in March this year, his condition worsened and the former soldier and HGV driving instructor died with his wife at his side, leaving all who knew him devastated.
Now his daughter and wife have shared their memories of the “big softie” who fought to the very end.
The avid Liverpool supporter was diagnosed with bowel cancer in October 2011, after undergoing an annual screening test. The news was a shock to him but his family said he approached it with his “army-barmy” spirit and took it on the chin.
Daughter Victoria, 36, said: “Dad was such a fighter in true army fashion but he was also the most kind-hearted person you could meet and wouldn’t hurt a fly.
“I remember the diagnosis like it was yesterday. He hadn’t been ill, he just sent off samples for the annual screening he got in the post.
“The doctors found abnormal polyps which are growths of tissue projecting from a mucous membrane. He had them removed and then had to return the following year for a check-up.
“Sadly they found that he had 13 polyps and two were cancerous. Even at that early stage it had progressed to his lymphnodes and they told us then that it was terminal but he could have chemotherapy.
“We were all devastated but he was such a determined person and didn’t want to be beaten. He changed his diet, eliminating salt and processed food, which as a former truck driver was tricky as he loved a bacon sandwich.”
Ken’s positivity and strength saw him defy doctor’s predictions that he would only live for 18 months.
Victoria, who is married to Lloyd Taylor, 39 and mum to Zara, eight months, said: “When we were told that news our world fell apart but in true dad style he kept defying the odds and logic.
“Every time he went to the doctors his markers would fluctuate and they couldn’t believe how well he was doing, he could go for nine months without chemotherapy sometimes. He was a very strong person which I think stemmed from his time in the army.”
It was while Ken was serving in the Junior Leaders Regiment Royal Artillery, that he met his wife and Victoria’s mother Sylvia, now 66, who was also a member of the armed forces.
Sylvia, said: “I was part of the Women’s Royal Army Corps and I was based at Melton Mowbray when I met Ken. The soldiers used to bring horses there for hunting every six months and at the time I was 19 and he was 26.
“We lived in Formby in Liverpool for a time and then we went over to Germany for 10 years.
“He was in the Army for 26 years and he absolutely loved it. He travelled to places such as Cyprus and was involved in the conflict in Aden. It was a big part of who he was.”
After Ken left the Army he became a HGV driving instructor, teaching people in Tamworth, Walsall and Wolverhampton, but his “defiant nature” meant he would often bend the rules, especially when it came to watching his favourite football team Liverpool or taking care of his driving students.
Victoria, who is a commercial contract manager, from Castle Gresley, said: “He was a big softie and he always enjoyed his work. To be honest he was probably too caring to be a businessman. He never gave the lads classroom theory just took them on the road instead and he always felt bad when some of them failed tests, and wanted to give them discounts on the re-test.
“He was a very gentle person and growing up I remember that he kept acquiring cats so we would always end up with a house full of strays! He was a bit of a font of knowledge in our household and loved history and crosswords. He loved reading and was well educated but his number one love was Liverpool Football Club.
“He always supported them and we used to go to games together when I was a kid. They came before anything and he would miss family occasions if it meant he could find a way to watch it.
“One day he left the hospital and chose to reschedule an appointment so he could watch a European football match. He wouldn’t miss it.”
Despite his caring nature, Ken also liked to “put the world to rights” and his whinging gained him the nickname “grump-pa.”
Victoria said: “He was very cheeky and had a sense of humour that some would call a scouse sense of humour, mum didn’t really understand it but I always thought he was very funny.
“He could be a right grumpy old man sometimes and when my daughter Zara came along, I nicknamed him grump-pa.
“When I was growing up I used to do a bit of singing and dad was my roadie. He loved live music whether it was rock bands or acoustic and he would trek me around everywhere and set up my gear for me. He would whinge the whole time but as soon as I started singing he would be smiling again.
“He also loved to moan about English weather. Dad liked the sun and he and mum loved to go abroad to places like Turkey, Tunisia, Croatia and Bulgaria but, of course, our weather at home could never compare.
“When he was recovering from chemotherapy he would spend a lot of time in the garden in sunshine and he always had his little projects where he would build stuff in the garden or paint stuff like his bins in the army colours.”
Ken’s strength and courage throughout his battle with the disease fooled his loved ones into thinking he would live forever, but sadly in March this year, he began to rapidly deteriorate.
Sylvia said: “To look at him you wouldn’t think he had cancer but around Christmas he started to get thinner and his health started to go drastically downhill. He always tried to battle through and he loved life. Even though he was getting bloated and was in pain from the stomach cancer he always got on with things but after having chemotherapy in November he was really sick and said he didn’t want it any more, he wanted a rest.
“Ken absolutely loved his curries and we would always go out as a family to have one but towards the end he just couldn’t eat. He used to be 13 to 14 stone but at the end he was less than eight stone, it just fell off him. I stayed at his side day and night. “
Then on March 16, with his wife at his side, Ken died at home. When Ken died Sylvia had a friend with her, which she said Ken would have been happy about because he would not have wanted her to be on her own when it happened.
Sylvia said: “He was a very proud man and I believe he waited until he knew I had someone with me.
“Every year we would think it was our last Christmas with him and then he would be fine, we just started to think he would live forever. We went to see the doctor the month before he died and he said he was surprised that he was still here, then the next month he wasn’t.
“His death was quite a shock. I thought that after all that time I had prepared myself but you just can’t ever prepare yourself for losing someone you love so much. I go home every night and sit and think of him and cry.”
Victoria also said she is struggling to come to terms with their loss, but she counts her blessings that her dad got to meet his first grandchild.
She said: “Sometimes I want to talk to him and I can’t. It is so hard to think that I am never going to see him again. If anything comforts me it is that he did what he could to stay with us for as long as he could and I am so pleased he got to meet Zara.
“The other thing I find comforting is that he planned what he wanted for the funeral, including asking me to do a recording of a Madonna song that became quite poignant during his journey. I cry every time I listen to it but it is nice to know that he will get the send-off he wanted and deserved.”
In honour of Ken, the flagpole which he erected in his garden now flies at half mast.
Ken is also remembered by brothers Keith Leonard and Roger Pensom.
His military funeral will take place at Bretby Crematorium on Tuesday, April 17, at 3.15pm. Guests are invited to wear an item of red, blue or yellow clothing to represent Ken’s battery colours.
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