Bowel cancer,  Colon cancer,  Health

My mum’s story

My mum, Charlie, jumped on a plane to South Africa as soon as she heard the news of my cancer. We picked her up on the 19th August 2019 from O. R. Tambo airport then went and had lunch. It was so lovely to have mum over here and for her to finally see some of South Africa, despite the fact we had a major operation looming. I had my operation on 22nd August and she was by my side every step of the way. It doesn’t matter how old you are, having your mum there is priceless. After a week in hospital, I came home and we were able to spend some lovely quality time together, in between me moaning about DVT socks and cold sweats! She stayed with us for three weeks then flew back to the U.K.

After around a week of being home, mum went to her GP as she still hadn’t had a bowel movement, he said it was constipation from the flight. A couple of days later, she went back to the GP and again he said there was nothing he could do and if it got any worse, to go to A & E. A couple of days later, my step-dad called the ambulance and mum was rushed to hospital and had an emergency operation to remove a large part of her bowel/colon, she woke up to an ileostomy bag attached. A large tumour had grown on her right ovary which had crushed and blocked her bowel. She had a biopsy and soon enough it was confirmed that she had stage four bowel cancer that had spread through her lymph nodes, peritoneum, to her ovary, liver and lungs. She was told it was incurable.

When we had the phone call here, we were just stunned. I couldn’t even fathom that this was happening. It was surreal. What are the chances of daughter and mother being diagnosed within such a short period of time. Initially, she was given a very vague time frame, two/three months to two years. As always, my mum was so calm and pragmatic. The oncologist suggested that she try chemotherapy to slow down the cancer, and she agreed to do a trial chemotherapy too. Sadly, mum picked up an infection from her operation which set her back a few weeks, she had to go back to hospital for two weeks to recover. As soon as she was fit enough and home, she visited with her oncologist and her chemo start date was set. We were both in it together, we would call each other and talk about our side effects and boosted each other to stay strong and to keep pushing ourselves. I coud not have done it without her love and encouragement. Mum literally had every side effect and I felt so bad for her, she was so brave but it was too much for her. Mike, her husband, my step-dad, was caring for her full time for which we are all eternally grateful. She spent more time in hospital and decided to pause her chemotherapy. The question that you have to ask is, what is the point of chemotherapy if you have no quality of life? It was a difficult decision but really, she had no choice her body could not cope with the chemotherapy.

After a break and another consultation with her oncologist, it was suggested that she try and complete four more cycles to give them a benchmark of how well the treatment was working, and whether it was slowing the cancer down. So at the end of March, on a Thursday, mum gave it her all and went for her third cycle of chemotherapy. Her side effects were horrific and she was taken back to hospital, her pain was unbearable and she was to remain in hospital while they controlled her pain. After about ten days, mum’s health was clearly declining and we could see how hard she was struggling with pain but she never complained, she was so brave. It was decided by the health professionals that mum would move across to a hospice. She left the hospital after two weeks there, not having any visitors due to COVID-19. It was heartbreaking that Mike could not visit her or my sisters, obviously I could not travel due to my chemotherapy irregardless of COVID-19.

The Lindsey Lodge hospice was amazing, mum felt at peace there and she felt safe knowing that the health workers could continue to aid her with her pain relief. Mike would visit her and talk to her through the window. Heartbreakingly, mum’s health declined further and further, she struggled to talk and so I would just do most the talking. She decided to have one night at her beloved home on Thursday 9th April and enjoyed being with family and her pets. I did video call with her but she was unable to talk really and was in and out of sleep. She returned to the hospice on Good Friday. Saturday morning, my sister, Kim called from the hospice as the consultant had told her and Mike that mum would pass away soon and that I should say my goodbyes.  I video called her and told her that I love her and that she could be at peace now and be with Grandma. She closed her eyes. I did video call again a little later but my mum’s spirit was already gone, I spoke briefly but it was so devastating to see my beautiful mother that way. Kim called about 15:35 to say she had passed away. She fought so bravely for seven months and gave it her all. Life will never be the same without her, and even now I cannot accept that she has gone. If anything can come from sharing our stories, I hope that raising awareness for early detections can save someone else from the pain and suffering cancer causes. Know your body and if you have any symptoms, don’t take no for an answer, keep pushing the doctors to listen.

Rest in peace mummy. We will love you forever and you will never be forgotten.

29-12-1955 to 11-4-2020