Warwick VIP competition: How a remarkable friendship has helped a father in his fight against his brain tumour

Lee and PaulLee and Paul
Lee and Paul
Best friends Paul Brennan and Lee Sweeney have been nominated for a VIP experience at That Gin & Cocktail Bar in Warwick

From special birthdays and anniversaries to wedding receptions, the past 18 months have meant missed celebrations with loved ones. Now for one Courier and Weekly News reader it’s finally time to celebrate thanks to a Warwick business owner. Steve Bazell, who runs That Gin & Cocktail Bar in Swan Street, plans to reward someone who has been through a particularly tough time during the pandemic, with a free party, worth more than £1,000. The winner of the exclusive Just The Tonic Campaign will be treated like a VIP for the night, receiving exclusive use of the private hire room. Steve said: “This story shows the power in true friendship and this nomination is a great way to give Paul a much-needed and much-deserved celebration as well as the opportunity for him to give back to Lee.”

Visit: http://thatgincompany.co.uk/Here we meet the second of our pairs of finalists – best friends Paul Brennan and Lee Sweeney – who were nominated by Lee’s wife Tracy.

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Paul Brennan will always be haunted by memories of the day he was given the news had a 50 per cent chance of survival.

Paul after undergoing treatmentPaul after undergoing treatment
Paul after undergoing treatment

The world came crashing down for the 43-year-old dad-of-two from Coventry who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour at the start of the first lockdown last year.

For Paul, who prides himself on ‘never having had a day off ill in 23 years,’ it marked the beginning of a dark chapter for himself and his family.

It was only when Paul’s early symptoms, which were passed off by doctors as radial nerve palsy, worsened, that he was eventually diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. The next day he was put on a six-month intensive treatment plan of chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant.

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He said: “All my life I had never been ill. I worked hard and earned good money and life was ticking along and then the next thing you know I’ve had a scan and was being told I had a brain tumour.

Lee and Paul in the garden room Lee helped completeLee and Paul in the garden room Lee helped complete
Lee and Paul in the garden room Lee helped complete

“I remember I was waiting for the results of the biopsy at home with all my hair shaved off just crying and thinking in a couple of days I could come home and have to tell my family I’m not going to be around at Christmas.

“I just sat on the sofa all day just looking at my son thinking I might not see him grow up.

“When the results did come back I was told by the doctors that it doesn’t look good. It was 50/50. I was then gearing myself up for the biggest fight ahead.”

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As well as his wife Kate, integral to Paul’s fight was his close friend of 23 years Lee Sweeney, whom he credits for playing a huge part in his recovery journey.

Paul and Lee with their daughtersPaul and Lee with their daughters
Paul and Lee with their daughters

As well as running errands and DIY tasks around the house during Paul’s treatment, Lee completed a building project his friend had started in his back garden and organised a collection so he could buy his family presents last Christmas. He and Paul’s wife Kate also set up a Justgiving page and raised £7,000 to fund his physio sessions to aid his recovery.

Paul explains: “You couldn’t ask for a better mate. He’s more like my brother. He really stepped up for me and my family in our hour of need.

“I had erected a building in the back garden but it had nothing in it and Lee came to finish it and turn it into a bar.

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We were halfway through decorating the house and he came and helped with that and gave me lifts everywhere and did everything I couldn’t do. I would ring him and he’d always be straight over if I needed him.”

Lee, from Cubbington, said: “This time last year, because Paul wasn’t working and on Statutory Sick Pay, he broke down one day and told me he had no money and couldn’t even afford to buy the family Christmas presents so I bought the lads together and organised a whip round and raised £400 so he could buy his wife and children presents.

“And I was going round regularly helping his family with jobs round the house.

He had only moved in year earlier and there was a lot needed doing. I wanted to do anything I could to help take some pressure off his family.

“I know for a fact he would do the same for me.”

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Paul is now in remission but desperately misses being hands-on as a builder after returning to an office-based role with his firm Warwick Buildings in April.

He attends fortnightly physio sessions and has been accepted onto a clinical trial but still has some way to go on his journey to regain full mobility - he still has a limp and limited movement in his hand.

But he’s never been more motivated to get back to full fitness.

“I’ve had 18 months without being able to pick up my four-year-old son. I can’t even give him a cuddle. I’m determined to be able to do that again.

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“When I was in hospital I wasn’t allowed visitors and couldn’t even video call the kids because the WIFI was so poor. When I looked out the window I could see across the corridor and my wife and son used to stand there and wave.

That’s why I fought - for them.”

Paul and Lee were nominated for the prize by Lee’s wife Tracy.

She said: “Lee will be 40 on the 18th December. He never gets to celebrate his birthday, with it being the week before Christmas, either all his friends are on their works Christmas parties or they're saving their money for Christmas.

Trying to organise a party this year has been the hardest yet.

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“I wanted to make this year a special one for not only him but his best friend.

My husband has been with him every step of the way, from taking him to appointments, being a shoulder to cry on to fixing up his garden so he could eventually see people and throughout it all my husband has never asked for anything in return. He just wanted to make his friend, his wife and children happy in what has been some of the saddest, toughest of times these past 18 months.

“To have all his friends and especially his best friend who has beaten cancer celebrate his milestone birthday would be a great way to end such a roller coaster of a year.”

Paul said: “I was taken aback by the nomination. I couldn’t believe Tracy had put us forward. I’m a private person normally but it’s great because it would be really good for me to do something for Lee.”

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