TRIBUTES have been paid to a popular dad of two who has lost his battle with cancer aged 34.

Builder Luke Graham lost his eight-month battle with oesophageal cancer last week, leaving behind loving wife Linda and children Caitlin, nine, and Jessica, seven.

Just days after a family holiday in Salou in Spain, the family had their lives turned upside down.

“We were waiting for test results before the trip,” explained 32-year-old wife Linda.

“The doctor said enjoy your holiday and when you get back we will see what is happening.

“We came back on the Tuesday and we went straight to the Cumberland Infirmary from Glasgow Airport.

“Within four days we were told he had oesophageal cancer.”

Before he died, it seemed like the former Carlisle Rugby Club player was making positive strides.

“I blended his food so it was all small so he could eat,” continued Linda.

“I did it because I loved him and wanted to make him better.

“He was getting better. He had chemotherapy, but the nurse was telling me cancer is a horrible thing that doesn’t go away; when it is there it is there.

“He smiled all the way through it and never once complained.”

Linda says his memory will not easily be forgotten.

“I would describe him as smiley, with a heart of gold,” she said.

“He was a pleasure to be around and wherever he went he put a stamp on everyone’s hearts. He was a gent, a genuinely nice guy. He would help everybody and if he did something, he did it right.

“He was just brilliant, a laugh. I feel like I have lost my left arm. I still keep thinking he is going to come back through the door.”

Local pub

The family live near Walton, with Luke and Linda meeting at a local pub.

“We have been together for 15 years and met at the Drove Inn. He stole my heart and four years later we got engaged. After six years we had our first daughter Caitlin.

“We had Caitlin in the February and got married at Bewcastle Church in July.

“Two years after that we had our second daughter Jessica and it has just grown from there.”

Coronavirus was included on Luke’s death certificate, but it is not believed it played a part in his passing.

Never dull

Linda says her marriage with Luke was never dull.

“I have got lots of happy memories,” she explained.

“Raising kids together was one of the things. I was lucky to have children. I was told that after the second child.

“He was an absolutely fantastic dad, he wore that on his shoulders – everybody said that. He was so proud to have us three next to him. Every photo shows he has a smile from ear to ear.”

It’s difficult for Linda to choose one single thing she will miss about her loving partner.

“I miss everything,” she said.

“I will miss my hero a lot. He was that anchor, my soulmate. What I will miss most is his cheeky grin and cheeky laugh and his wicked sense of humour.”

Tough on children

Breaking the news about Luke to the children was tough for Linda.

“They are amazing, but when your child says, ‘Mum always fixes everything’ and you know you can’t fix it, it’s tough. They pull me up when times are tough. They are amazing, I’m very proud of the girls.”

Aside from family, Luke was also well-known and respected in the community.

“He was a popular man, he had a wide range of friends. He had his shooting guys and he was part of a rugby family,” said Linda.

“He was a builder by trade, which he loved. He did work on the Story sites with two close school friends. He had a laugh every day. He came back with some stories.

“He was always going shooting with his syndicate. He played darts, rugby in his younger years. He loved doing stuff.”

Fundraiser started

The impact of his life can be seen by the success of a fundraiser in his memory, which has so far raised more than £5,300.

“I just never for one second expected to raise this much for two special charities,” Linda explained.

“The donations have been phenomenal. It shows how loved he was, how well-known he was and how much everybody thought of him.”

The beneficiaries of the fundraiser will be Reiver House and the Special Care Baby Unit, which are both at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle

“Both our children were born premature, very premature and because of the care at the special care baby unit at the Cumberland Infirmary, it is close to our family’s hearts,” continued Linda.

“And at Reiver House – where he had his treatment – they were amazing. I can’t thank them enough.”

Family hole

Luke’s death will leave a hole in the close family.

“He has left behind a lot of people. Mum Kelly and dad Malcolm who worshipped him, and two brothers. He is going to be a big miss.”

Phil Healy, who coached Luke when he played for Carlisle Rugby Club from the age of 13, said it was a sad time for everybody at the club.

“He was a member of the team that got to the first ever Northern Championship final, in, I think, 2003.

“He played wing or fly-half. He was a very talented player. He represented the county at 15s, 16s and under 18s level.”

Aside from his successes on the pitch, he will also be missed off it.

“He was a popular member of the squad, he was someone you had a one-to-one relationship with.

“He will be a huge miss. It came as a complete shock as he was making progress.”

To donate to the fundraiser, go to

Luke’s funeral was held at Walton Church, near Brampton on Saturday at 11am. Social distancing requirements meant only close family were allowed in the church.