A SURPRISE visitor to a North-East hospice has made an unusual dream come true for a cancer patient.

Gary Falconer, who has terminal cancer, had always wanted to hold a tarantula, so staff at Butterwick Hospice conquered their own fears to make it happen.

A call was made to Julie’s Pet store at Newton Aycliffe and they were only too pleased to help.

“I was a bit nervous at first but it’s something that was on my bucket-list so it’s fantastic to finally hold a tarantula,” said Gary, 56, of Bishop Auckland. “It was a little bit tickly but really soft and I can’t thank everyone enough.”

Jo Wallis, head of fundraising and marketing for the hospice, said: “We really try hard to listen to what our patients want and, in Gary’s case, one of his wishes was to hold a tarantula. One or two members of staff were a bit worried about it, but it’s made Gary’s day and that’s what it’s all about.”


Gary and wife Heather say they have had tremendous support from Butterwick Hospice since Gary was diagnosed with cancer two and a half years ago and started attending as a regular day patient every Friday.

“It’s like a big family and I really looked forward to my Fridays here,” said Gary. “I’ve made so many friends and we have such a lot of fun.”

Among the treatments Gary receives at the hospice are massage, chiropody, manicures, and physiotherapy. He also loves to join in social activities like bingo.

Heather has also received respite, advice, and counselling. “They have been absolutely brilliant for both of us and they deserve all the support anyone can give them because they do such an amazing job,” she said.

Gary, whose illness started with prostate cancer and spread through the lymph nodes, said: “I just want to make the most of the time I’ve got and the Butterwick has helped me to do that.”

Gary has also had a drive with the Durham Police Interceptors and received a surprise visit at home from the Harley-Davidson Durham Group, who took him for a ride to Stanhope. He’s also visited a volcano in Tenerife and climbed Roseberry Topping.

And now the former Durham County Council work has ticked off the tarantula from his bucket-list, his next ambition is to fly to New York.