Gone … but not forgotten. Mums cancer journey

I’ve ‘hummed and arrhhed’ about posting this for fear of offending people , for fear of coming across depressive. I’m not here to conform, and it is just my thoughts, my musings of the last few months.

I braved it and hit publish.

* * * * * * * *’

As regular readers  will be aware my mum died on July 10th 2017.

The official cause of death Endometrioid Carcinoma of the Upper Vagina and end stage Kidney Disease. 

I was there as she took her last breath.

Just like that … after 2 weeks in palliative care she gave up the good fight.

It took me a while to be able to say it and not feel terrible… but it was a relief.

To see somebody you love who had always been so active –  bed-bound and in pain, with no prospect of getting better is gut-wrenching. The helplessness you feel, the aching, the love, the anger, the sadness … it a real mix of emotion, it’s confusing.

It caused me anxiety, sleepless nights and pangs of guilt.

I didn’t eat.

I didn’t sleep

I just existed and cried a lot.

I ran on auto pilot.

Everyday for her last 13 days I’d get up and do my best ‘Stepford Wife’ impression. I’d drive to the hospital where I’d sit all day.  I’d put on my positive smiley face. I didn’t want Mum to see me sad and crying for her. She was still there and that’s all that mattered

Clinging onto her.

Telling her everything I wanted too while I still had the chance.

I drank coffee on repeat, held her hand, stoked her face and told her I loved her. I’d go home exhausted , go to bed and lay there all night unable to sleep worried she would  pass in the night alone.

Mum didn’t open her eyes, move or talk for the last 4 days of her life . She was like a shell.

I still read to her, sang her favourite songs. Watched ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ and guessed how much the houses would go for. It was a one way conversation but sometimes I’d get a half smile or she’d clinch my hand. Knowing she was still there made me selfishly feel safe. Mum was still here and things would be ok. Ohhh I knew full well that things weren’t ok but your body armour has a stage way of buffering the pain by letting you believe the unbelievable.

Hope.

The nurses would often walk in to find me mid way through a rendition of one of her favourite tunes. Somebody once told me that the last sense to go was your hearing. I’m not sure if that’s true but if it was I wanted her to know I was there, to not be scared , that she wasn’t alone. That she wasn’t going to die by herself. She’d always been there for me . I’d always be there for her.

For 46 years she was my mum.

My best friend.

She made me laugh so much. She had a zest for life. This …. this wasn’t fair.

In July 2012 on the way back home from a fabulous weekend away she popped to the toilet and passed what they believe was the body of the tumour. A mass of dark blood and mucous.  It was enough to scare Mum into seeing the doctor straight away the very next day.

Following various tests she was  diagnosed with upper vaginal cancer. I can remember feeling as though somebody had floored me,  that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Dread.

Fear.

She spent the last 5 years of her life fighting  the bastard. Always with dignity, always with humor and a smile.

Her initial treatment consisted of 25 days of intensive radiotherapy which left her with burnt skin and the nick name ‘baboon bum’. It made her extremely ill. It wiped her out but we kept telling her it would make her better. That she’d not have a red bum forever.

To fight.

A major operation followed to cut the remainder of the cancer and surrounding area away.

They cut the majority of her bladder and vagina away leaving her with a stoma. We fondly referred too this as her cherry bakewell . Mum quickly adjusted to ‘weeing into a bag’. Always the joker she said it was a godsend on nights out as  there was no queuing in the ladies toilets and that she’d save a fortune on toilet paper.

Regular check-ups every 3 months to start with led to one major ‘all clear’

One almighty celebration party followed. So much happiness. So much hope. So much Gin!  Hangover for days.

Mum was one of the lucky ones. She had #beathebastard a hashtag I used a lot back then.

A year in the clear …

In 2016 her one  remaining kidney began to  fail, this resulted in her having to endure dialysis 3 times a week . I say endure because that’s exactly what’s he did … she hated it.

In October 2016 we received the devastating news that the cancer had returned with vengeance . She was now classed as ‘living with cancer.’

Dread filled my whole being once again. I felt sick constantly.

The doctors  would give her tablets to try and stem the growth but there were no guarantees.

Mum began to deteriorate quickly, she found walking difficult and tired easily . She fell down a lot, banging her head a few times in the process. She kept picking infections up which made the condition worse. It was agreed that we [the family] needed to be there 24/7 so between us we ensured that she was never alone .

I can remember sitting with her in the Conservatory one day during that time. It was a beautiful sunny day, I was sat holding her hand while she fell in and out of sleep. She was in a good mood. She turned to me and said “I’d be quite happy if this was my lot, sat in my home with my family around me. People popping in and out to see me” I can remember thinking how wonderful she was , such strength in adversity.

I went home and cried.

June 2017  …. the news we never wanted to hear. The doctors had done all they could. The cancer had spread into her bowel and stomach .

She had just weeks to live. Two at the most they said. 14 days.

Had they made a mistake? Please let it be a mistake.

Clinging on … to hope.

To mum.

She was admitted into the palliative care unit at the Northern General and that’s where she saw out the rest of her life.

We tried to make it as comfortable as possible …but it was hard . When we asked Mum what she wanted to do before she died she said to have a Gin. Her request became reality, she was taken off her medication  and a Gin & Cake party was organised. Lots of her friends showed up. It was a beautiful afternoon.

Even on her deathbed she wasn’t going to let it win.

Although in the end it did.

Bastards, bastard cancer

So your no doubt asking the question why  I’m sharing all this with you.

Why now?

Promises.

I made a few of these to Mum in the weeks leading upto her death. One of them was that I would raise cancer awareness , try and stop any other woman going through what she did.

I’m going to be doing lots of fundraising, which will hopefully raise awareness and much needed money for research. There is stuff in the pipeline. [I’ll talk about that more in another post.]

Another promise was that I would share her story both before and after the cancer diagnosis. That for as long as I was around she wouldn’t be forgotten.

She made it clear she didn’t want to be defined by her cancer. She wanted to be remembered laughing, drinking gin, upto mischief.  Peggy pre cancer, not poorly sick Peggy.

Personally I feel that Mum didn’t go through all she did to be forgotten in 3 months… because [daft as it may sound] sometimes that what it feels like. It never happened and she never existed.

I get people don’t know what to say. I do . I get they don’t want to upset me. But you know what your silence on the matter upsets me more.

You may think I’m talking out of turn, that I’m being unjust but all those people who said they’d be there for me… where are the they now?

Silence.

I’ve not heard from some of them since before the funeral. Are they really my  friends? Put the boot on the other foot, imagine you’d  lost your Mum and I’d not been in touch ?

Not a nice feeling is it?

Be that thoughtful friend.

I don’t want grand gestures, flowers or chocolates but a quick ‘you alright ?’ text wouldn’t go a miss every now and again.

Nothing will ever replace my Mum.

Nothing.

But everyday I wake up and feel the sunshine on my face I think of Mum holding my hand that day ‘ happy with her lot’ and think how lucky I was to have her in my life.

Love …

Love will see us through.

X

* Linking up with the lovely Not Lamb #SaturdayShareLinkUp 

24 thoughts on “Gone … but not forgotten. Mums cancer journey

  1. Styling Out The School Run says:

    Oh Tracey, I don’t know what to say. You have written this so beautifully and I feel every word of it for you and your family. Your mum was incredibly brave and she must be so proud of her daughter for sharing her story in such an eloquent and loving way…xxx

  2. Emma says:

    You know how I genuinely feel about your bravery throughout yours mum’s illness and your description of her is very familiar too , tho we are not as far advanced…..you expressed so much that we all struggle with and showed that IG Is more than a platform for vanity and insecurity … ( it really is). .. you are both stars and she will be immensely proud if you .. sending love x Emma

  3. midlifecrisismumblog says:

    Hi Tracey. I can totally relate to your post and these feelings. Thank you so much for your honest bittersweet story. I lost my Mum to bone cancer secondary from breast cancer 2 yrs ago; she was 64. At the time I was 38yrs, my brothers were 33 and 26 when she died. She was misdiagnosed for both of these cancers and was only taken seriously when she insisted something was wrong… After the gruelling chemo for breast cancer she was clear for 5yrs then it returned in the guise of back pain to barely walking’, where dismissed by her GP she was finally referred after again insisting.
    I too cried bitter tears of anger, resentment, lost weight unwittingly and had countless sleepless nights. My stomach churned and did flips whenever she had her scheduled appointments with her Oncologist. My brother took charge accompanying her as I could not bear to go and would be a crying wreck and Dad could not cope either and was in to be frank in complete denial and was convinced she could beat it but she was a dead woman walking.
    Mum was given 5 yrs and cancer took her in that five yrs but she was a mere shell of the vibrant fun woman she was after 2yrs of the gruelling Chemo yet again, radio and operations to save her bones being eaten by this cancer, metal plates and rods in her leg and back. She was so tired of it all and said she wanted to die as she didn’t want us to suffer anymore. Mum was so selfless. I hoped that God would give her a peaceful death but she was not even given that dignity and my faith all but died with her and yet my Catholic upbringing is instilled in me and I still have some sense belief.
    I too felt that guilt ridden relief you felt, my heart is saddened when my younger brother mourns the fact any children he would have would never know her.
    I started to read your blogs a little while ago and then looked you up on Insta. I commented when you posted that your Mum passed, I think something along the lines of your Mum being at peace now… I often wonder how you are doing when I catch you on Insta as you were so close to your Mum and I see you smile through your pain. I get it Hun….
    Keep smiling sweetheart x

  4. Bev J says:

    I’m so sorry that you lost your mum to this awful disease. It seems that lots of families have a story like yours to tell. In my experience the pain of our loss hasn’t gone, 6 years on, but it does dull and the happy times come more readily to mind than the gut wrenching anger and sadness that followed us for months afterwards.
    Thank you for sharing what has happened to your family, I didn’t even know you could get vaginal cancer. It may sound like a cliche but if you can help one person with your blog then something has been achieved.
    Your mum sounds like a lovely person, I hope you find comfort from this blog and from helping other people. Best wishes.

  5. Lynn Simmerson says:

    Your Mum, our friend, Peggy was loved and is missed by her many friends. It was terrible to see her fading. However she always was pleased to see anyone who visited and loved it when you painted her nails and did her hair, still always wanting to look her best. You were a wonderful daughter Tracey and kept her smiling. You smiled for her though at times the smile cracked and your heartbreak showed. I can only hope for you and your lovely Dad and Mark that the memories will help you through and that your fundraising will give you purpose and help others to fight the Bastard. Love to you all xx

  6. Sue says:

    Smear tests, mammograms and internal tests are not pleasant but are there to check and identify
    We should not put our head in the sand and think it will never happen
    Writing this was therapeutic for you, Peggy would be proud.
    Stay strong x

  7. Emma Mascall says:

    Tracey, your piece has really touched me. Firstly am so sorry for your loss and the part that makes it harder when people don’t talk to you about your Mum. I am fortunate to not have lost a family member nowhere near what you are going through but I did lose one of my dear friends to cancer, completely relate to the part watching the person you love reduced to a shell. She fought for almost 3 months in palliative care (to the point that they were saying she may need to be moved as didn’t qualify for palliative care). It was a roller coaster trying to sort her affairs for her (she was estranged from her family until the very end and her determination that this would not happen meant she never wanted to do this). She never got out of bed again once she went to the hospice and it was heartbreaking so I understand the relief part you describe.
    I miss her loads and hear her giving me advice (or tellings off in my head) all the time. I keep expecting her to walk in the door or call me even now. She and I founded a local W.I. Group together in better times and they have been an amazing support however someone told me that it upsets them when I talk about her at meetings (I mentioned her when I recently resigned as president) and that upset me without her the group wouldn’t exist.

  8. This, tatt and the other says:

    So beautifully written. I think raising awareness will be cathartic for you, and helpful for other women. Like Bev said above, I didn’t know vaginal cancer even exists.

    Your Mom sounds like a fabulous lady.

    I cut contact with “friends” who weren’t there for me during my Dad’s illness; people who didn’t ask how things were and then blamed me. Sometimes it’s ok to let go. I think true colours will out during tough times, and being surrounded by the right people is more important than having people in your life who aren’t really and truly there for you.

    Thanks for sharing your post. x

  9. Lynn says:

    Thanks so much for that. My mum died 14 June after 6 years with cancer, most of them good. I can relate to all those emotions. It’s great to know that I’m not a total freak, or alternatively, were both freaks together. The bit about packing her away and did she ever exist is my overwhelming feeling now. Thanks for saying it as it is , by writing about both your journeys you’ve helped me, your mum’s helped me so in a tiny way, mission accomplished. X

  10. littleowlblogs says:

    I’ve sat reading this with my hand on my heart – unknowingly. It’s so touching to read about your relationship with your mum. She sounds like a compete superstar. Thanks for sharing all the feeling and emotion, it can’t be easy regurgitating it all and bringing it all back to the front of your mind. You are an inspiration and your mum would be so proud xx

  11. lindahobden says:

    My heart goes out to you. My father died in February 2017 of pneumonia but he had been ill with frontal vascular dementia for 12 years. I know he was ill, but lying on his “death bed” I held his hand, willing him to defy the odds but I knew I had to let him go. He knew he wasn’t alone when he died & I was glad that I was there when he took his final breath. My husband’s aunt (& close friend) had also spent the last 12 years fighting breast cancer. It went away but came back with a vengeance last year infecting her lungs & bowel too. Nothing more could be done – she was so brave – but she lost her fight 8 weeks ago. Cancer is a bastard. Most definitely.

  12. Deborah Belton says:

    Your words are just so poignant, relevant and heart wrenching. Sending you love and thoughts and so sorry for the loss of your wonderful mum. I also lost my mother this year to multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer) and your story is almost identical to ours. If you are organising any event we (otherletters) can provide some bespoke straws, cake toppers, banners as we would love to support you in any way we can. Big hugs 😘😘

  13. Claire says:

    What a beautiful, heartbreaking, honest post. I’m so sorry for your loss, and I think you’re so brave to write this post. I bet you anything that your Mum would be proud as punch. Sending you lots of love.

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