**we never called her mum. Being from the North East of England she was “our mam”. she always thought mum sounded posh and insisted on signing birthday cards “love from mum & dad” even though we never called her that! Here, I will make her sound a bit posh 🙂
I feel like I need to start at the beginning with this one. When I was 13 my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was 42. She had a lump removed from her breast and lymph nodes taken from her underarm.
She underwent radiotherapy which brings its own challenges and it seemed like it was all going well as she went into remission. A few years passed and she felt something wasn’t right in her underarm, she repeatedly reported this to her GP and was told each time that it was scar tissue.
Lesson one to always listen to your gut feeling.
By the time they referred my mum to the specialist that would confirm her suspicions of the cancer coming back, it had already spread.
She battled for years, went through medications, chemotherapy, everything that was available at that time before passing away at 54 years old. I haven’t had a cuddle from here since 2003.
Gary and I had gone travelling and I’ll never forget the phone call I made back home on 13th December 2002 from Tahiti when I was told that the last option of treatment wasn’t working as well as they’d hoped (basically it wasn’t working at all), typically though she played it down as she didn’t want us to feel like we had to come home and wanted us to continue on our adventure. We were boarding a plane to Rarotonga.
I called back regularly while I was away trying to find out how serious it was, how long did she have but typical parents played it down and were more interested in what we were getting up to. I made the decision to fly home and booked my flight for early January. We made the decision that Gary would stay in Rarotonge, we found him a job as we didn’t know how long I’d be gone, and I flew home.
Lesson two to always listen to your gut feeling.
I flew from Cook Islands to LA to Heathrow, I remember the weather was so bad my flight to Teesside was cancelled. I was so tired, emotional and all I wanted to do was get home and see my mum. After 10 hours in Heathrow I finally boarded a flight back to Teesside. Nobody knew that I was coming, I rang the door bell and had a crushed box of melted Quality Street in my hand (her favorite)
First thing she said once the initial shock had passed was “what are you doing here?” She basically made me book a return flight back to the Cook Islands in the first week I was back, she didn’t want her illness to impact my adventures (you can tell what I was dealing with here, she was so selfless).
I was shocked to see how much she had deteriorated in the time since I had left 3 months prior. Her confidence had taken a massive hit, she wasn’t driving anymore. It was a real shock to me as she had always been fiercely independent.
In the time I was home we had so much fun, I’d take her to town and we’d shop, I would push her round in a wheelchair and she would complain that all of the clothes in the shop were dragging over her face and that I’d “abandoned” her in the aisles, we’d laugh till we cried. We had pamper nights, cuddles on the couch and I would massage her swollen arm that was not draining properly due to her having lump nodes removed.
In 2003 the Americas Cup was in New Zealand so flights that way were impossible. We spent 6 weeks together before I flew back to Gary in Rarotonga.
Our original intention was to go from Cook Islands – Fiji – New Zealand – Australia and stay there for 1 year on a working holiday visa.
I had a feeling that my mum wouldn’t last that long so Gary & I made the decision to skip Fiji, go straight to New Zealand, cancel our holiday visa in Australia and go back home via Thailand.
We spent 2 months in a Camper Van travelling around New Zealand, we had 10 days in Sydney and then flew to Thailand for 10 days. On our third night in Thailand we got a phone call from home from my dad and my brother telling me they didn’t think mum would make it through the night … What!? How had things escalated so quickly!!
I asked them to put mum on the phone and told her I was on my way and not to go anywhere! … her response “you don’t have to come home, I’m alright”.
This might be a good time to mention we had just been to a ‘wine buffet’ and got to bed about midnight when the call came through! We jumped out of bed, rang the airline, changed our flight and packed. We were collected at 6 am and within 24 hours from that phone call I was in our living room at home back in Middlesbrough. I went straight down to see her at the hospice, she had lost so much weight and was so weak … Her first words “you didn’t have to come home”.
I stayed with her all day everyday for a few days and the nurses couldn’t believe how much she improved, so much so we could bring her home!! We had a stair lift fitted in the house, set up her bedroom and brought her back where I could take care of her (basically had a baby monitor in her room to monitor her every move much to her dismay!)
We had a great two weeks together, but she gradually deteriorated over that time. She passed away at home with all of us there. I seriously couldn’t imagine how we would go on without her, I couldn’t see my life without her in it. I was 25.
We were a very close family unit, my mam, my dad, my older brother and me. My mother was the head of the family and organised EVERYTHING! She was outgoing with lots of friends, and was the most loving and generous person I have ever known.
Seeing her battle with cancer was the hardest thing I have witnessed in my life … she was everything to me x