The Big C – A Personal Story

The Big C – A Personal Story

Twelve years ago my mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer and told to make the most of the next six months.  She was just shy of her 60th birthday and in cancer years this was considered to be young.

My husband and I had just celebrated our marriage with a big party on the Thames.  My mother had been the life and soul and looked incredible.   She certainly didn't look like someone with just six months to live, but then again how do any of us know what that looks like?

There are not words to describe the way it feels when one of your immediate family is dealt such a cruel blow.  It is a complete body punch as you are left reeling from the enormity of the news. You struggle to find the right words, how and why are the most obvious and the most immediate as you try to process the facts, followed by what next?  Your heart and your brain fight it out for supremacy.  It is a time to be strong and to offer support and encouragement in an effort to allay the fears of those around you but panic, fear and incoherence make you weak.

The news hit our family really hard of course.  I am not exaggerating when I say my mother is the lynchpin of our family. My father's career had taken him around the world for the majority of each year. My mother remained in the UK with us, believing a life of endless travelling was not the right upbringing for my sister and I.  As a result she held the fort at home, looking after us alone whilst managing a job of her own, until such a time as we both left for university then she upped sticks and traveled with my father. At the time of her diagnosis they had both returned to the UK to prepare for an early retirement.

My mother's reaction to her situation was stoic.  A long career as a practice manager for a local GP's surgery had forced her to face personal tragedy on a daily basis and she was not ignorant in the face of her symptoms.  There was no internet search involved.  The diagnosis did not surprise her she said.  She had noticed a significant change in her body and it was that alone that had spurred her to seek a consultation.

The results of her tests were quick to come back, along with an immediate course of action, namely to remove the cancerous section of her colon and start a course of chemotherapy, all of this was, however, couched under the umbrella of Stage 3 cancer and a less than optimistic outlook.

My mother may have crumbled when in front of the consultant and undoubtedly she had dark moments of her own but she never exposed her fear to us.  My children were 6 and 2 and my sister had just given birth to twins.  She was determined to see her grandchildren grow up and was unwavering in her determination to fight this head on.

A date was set for the operation and an appointment made with a local wig maker who specialised in real hair wigs.  I always admire those ladies that wear their cancer baldness so bravely but am sure that first decision to step out into the world without hair is not an easy one.  My mother's hair was her crowning glory and the thought of losing it seemed to upset her more than the prospect of the operation itself.  Baldness and scarves were not for her, the wig was a necessity.

It's funny but looking back my sister and I assumed roles of support for my mother and the "job of the hair" fell firmly in my camp.  Like her, my hair is a big part of me, not because it is dramatic or different in anyway, in fact it is the complete opposite, fine and prone to kinks, it needs daily love and attention, just like my mother's.  Thus, the wig couldn't be just any old wig it needed to be the "perfect" wig and bugger the cost.

We spent a lovely morning (if that is possible) with the wig maker, deciding on the style and colour.  Her advice was not to go for a wig that looked like her existing hairstyle because it would draw more attention to the fact she was wearing one, so she encouraged my mother to be different with a shorter style, although the colour was almost identical.  She was wonderful and looking back she took away some of my mother's fear of being exposed.  She was upbeat and positive, she didn't say it would be fine because clearly it wouldn't, but she was measured and reassuring.  The value of the role of all of these people in The Big C process cannot be underestimated.

Perhaps what many will think is the most unusual part of this jigsaw is that my father returned to work.  My sister and I were initially outraged.  My mother fought his corner.  If she wasn't around there was no way he could retire.   He wouldn't cope.  They had discussed it and he was not retiring, not now.  It was not up for debate and non-negotiable.  To this day I can recall the horrified reactions of everyone when they found out, but my mother batted the comments away.  How dare they?  Who were they to judge?  Was this their cancer or crisis?  No it wasn't, so quite frankly they could keep their opinions to themselves.

The night before my mother's operation was the longest of my life and probably of my mother's too.  Our arrival at the hospital the next morning was shrouded in fear. The ward was full of very sick people.  The pre-operation room reeked of desperation.  What is the point of trying to be upbeat when the faces of those around you shout fear straight back at you?  Never in my life have I wanted to cry so much as I did that day.  Saying goodbye to my mother as she was wheeled away to the theatre is a memory that stays with me to this day.  "See you when you come back" I said.  "I might not see you again"  is what my subconscious said.

My mother was under the care of the NHS and despite having been through a major operation I wasn't allowed to see her until the correct visiting hours the next day, but a voice mail reassured me that the operation had gone smoothly and she was recovering.  What they didn't tell us at that stage was that the cancer had spread to her liver. This is not uncommon in bowel cancer but we had not been warned of this or even contemplated this outcome.

So what next?  Well after such major surgery there is no possibility of further surgery for three months so my mother was discharged and instructed to commence her chemotherapy.  Between all of us and her friends we followed the advice and took her for her bi-weekly chemo sessions, whilst my parents sought the expertise of a consultant for the next stage.  The decision was made that as soon as she was deemed well enough she would undergo another operation on her liver. Apparently, your liver is the only organ that can regenerate and regrow.  The proposal was to remove two thirds of her liver but there were huge risks.  My mother decided she had everything to live for and nothing to lose.  She agreed to another round of surgery and a date was booked for when she finished her chemo.

By some miracle my mother is a survivor.  She defied the odds and remains to this day the lynchpin of our family, just with a very large scar - the Mercedes scar as it is fondly known. A third of us will be diagnosed with cancer and in our family alone, my mother aside, my father and father-in-law have survived a battle with cancer and my husband's mother sadly lost her life to cancer at 50.  I am humbled every day by the stories of the survivors and of those that care for those afflicted by this terrible disease, but it is important as my mother reminds us all daily, to live our lives with hope not fear and face our battles when they come, if they do.

 

 

 

 

 

This post is linked with the following:

Post Comment LoveA Cornish MumA Mum Track Mindnew linky badgeMy Random Musings

Follow:

28 Comments

  1. October 12, 2016 / 8:35 pm

    Amazing, and brave, post hun. This has touched my heart as a family member is going through this right now. It’s tough to watch and the uncertainty is almost unbearable. I’m so pleased your mother is a survivor. Thanks for linking to #pocolo
    Morgan Prince recently posted…Tips for getting your children to do choresMy Profile

    • October 13, 2016 / 10:49 pm

      Thank you so much Morgan. I am so sorry to hear about your relative and hope that there is a good outcome. Sometimes miracles do happen. #pocolo

  2. October 8, 2016 / 2:24 pm

    Jo – Your mother sounds like an amazing, strong woman! What an inspiration. Thank you for sharing such a touching post. <3
    Jennifer recently posted…Three Day Quote Challenge – Day 1My Profile

    • October 9, 2016 / 4:45 pm

      Oh thank you Jennifer that is very kind. She is indeed. x

  3. October 7, 2016 / 12:32 pm

    I feel really honoured that you have shared your personal story in a such a raw and honest way with us. What a strong and determined woman your Mother is. You sound like you take after her – keeping yourself and your family together under these circumstances is no mean feat. Wishing your Mum a full and speedy recovery x #fortheloveofBLOG
    A Mum Track Mind recently posted…Lessons Learned From Living With A ThreenagerMy Profile

    • October 7, 2016 / 6:07 pm

      Oh thank you Fi, that is so lovely of you. Hers is a remarkable story and we all count our lucky stars every day that she pulled through. #fortheloveofBLOG

    • October 6, 2016 / 10:22 pm

      Thanks Stevie, as you say she is both of those. #picknmix

  4. October 6, 2016 / 12:30 pm

    I was so relieved to get the the end and read you Mother is a survivor. I’m very fortunate and I almost don’t want to write it in case of jinxing, but we haven’t as a family been effected by cancer, my Grandad had prsotate cancer but he was very old and slightly different to it happening when he was younger. Thanks for linking to #PickNMix
    Eilidh

    • October 6, 2016 / 1:09 pm

      I know what you mean about not jinxing it. We try not to think about the odds in this house as they don’t look good but there’s another day ahead to be lived first. #picknmix

  5. October 5, 2016 / 3:10 pm

    It bought tears to my eyes when I read that your mum is still with you! I was sure the story was heading to the cancer taking from you (as a former nurse who worked in palliative care, I unfortunately very rarely saw success stories.) I can’t even imagine how that time must’ve affected your family, and what your mum must’ve gone through at the time. Although this must’ve been very difficult for you to write about, I will still come away feeling uplifted that your mum is a survivor, and people can survive this devastating illness. Thank you for sharing this with us!
    #bigpinklink

    • October 5, 2016 / 4:18 pm

      Yes I think she even surprised herself to be honest. There are some remarkable stories of survival and she was lucky to be one of them, but a huge credit must go to the fabulous surgeons and nurses whose care she was under. I have huge admiration for your profession it must be so draining emotionally as well as physically. Thanks for reading and commenting. #bigpinklink

  6. October 5, 2016 / 1:19 pm

    Your mother sound like a cracking woman. Very strong and determined. I’m so happy to get to the end of your post and find she pulled through. It’s a hard thing for everyone to go through and there are no right words. #bloggerclubuk

    • October 5, 2016 / 1:33 pm

      Oh thank you Briony that is so lovely of you. She is an inspiration! Thanks for commenting. #bloggerclubuk

  7. October 3, 2016 / 9:10 pm

    So glad your mother survived and remains the lynchpin of your family. She had so much awesome support around here. It’s so sad that cancer affects so many of us. Only just recently a friend who is my age was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has survived but it makes you think how common it is. #bigpinklink
    Tooting Mama recently posted…Work That Works, Digital Mums campaign for flexible workingMy Profile

    • October 3, 2016 / 10:41 pm

      I am glad your friend is ok and you are right the statistics are scary. One in three is high. The treatment, however, is getting better with the help of the research being done by so many. Lets hope this figure declines soon. Thanks for commenting. #bigpinklink

  8. October 3, 2016 / 3:50 pm

    I’m so glad your mum survived I feared the end of your post. It must have been a stressful & painful time for you all. I’m so glad there was a positive ending & I hope your mum has many years of good health. #bigpinklink Lifeinthemumslane
    Emma Jones recently posted…Are you an organiser or last minute?My Profile

    • October 3, 2016 / 10:39 pm

      Oh thank you Emma. There are so many fabulous cancer survival stories and we are glad and thankful every day that my mother is one of them. She is a tough cookie. Thanks for commenting. #bigpinklink

  9. October 2, 2016 / 9:41 pm

    I was so relieved to get to the end of your post to hear that you mother is still with you and going strong. She’s one strong woman, and so are you. It’s so difficult to see someone you love so dearly having to go through all the treatment and worry. I sadly lost my mam to breast cancer when I was 24 and I was 17 when she was first diagnosed. I remember vividly the day her hair started to fall out and it was the first time it really hit me. That ill look you get, because it’s not just the hair on your head that goes, but your eyebrows and eyelashes too. It sounds like your mum and my mam (I’m from Newcastle…! haha) would have had plenty in common. No time to focus on the negatives, just get on with it and don’t complain. Funnily enough, my post this week is also about cancer. I guess there is so much focus on it with the kick off of the MacMillan coffee mornings this week. Here’s hoping your mum has a lot of years left in her yet – it sounds like she’s certainly full of life. xx
    #fortheloveofBLOG

    • October 3, 2016 / 10:41 am

      I am so sorry to hear about your mum (mam). I have been listening to Jo Malone on R4 this morning talking about her battle with Breast Cancer, it’s just so tough when it strikes and it seems all you can do is put all your faith in the doctors and the treatment and hope that it works. The Macmillan Coffee Morning is perhaps not surprisingly a time when everyone will be thinking about their own experiences or those of the people they love and in your case with some fond memories no doubt. Thanks for commenting and I will pop over to read your post. #fortheloveofBLOG

  10. October 2, 2016 / 5:02 am

    Cancer is one word that universally brings fear. I am so happy to hear that she is a survivor and that you have more years to form more memories.

    • October 2, 2016 / 6:44 pm

      Thank you Jenn, miracles do happen it seems.

  11. October 1, 2016 / 4:20 pm

    It’s something we all have in common, as it seems to touch everyone’s lives these days. Thankyou for the honest and touching post. #fortheloveofBLOG

    • October 2, 2016 / 6:45 pm

      Yes it is everywhere and we all know someone don’t we which is worrying in itself. Thanks for reading. #fortheloveofBLOG

  12. October 1, 2016 / 1:33 pm

    What a fantastic ,and painful, story to share. #Pocolo

    • October 1, 2016 / 3:43 pm

      And cathartic. x PoCoLo

  13. September 30, 2016 / 11:06 pm

    cancer is something that at some point affects us all in one way or another. My last post was actaully about childhood cancer awareness but the underlying theme, that its the poeple around you that can make the struggle easier, remains the same no matter what the age Thanks for sharing #pocolo
    jeremy@thirstydaddy recently posted…Four Percent Is Not EnoughMy Profile

    • September 30, 2016 / 11:26 pm

      You are right Jeremy, support from the people you love and that care about you makes a difference. The prevalence of childhood cancer is so sad, I cannot imagine how you would cope with that as a parent. I missed your post but will check it out. Thanks for your comment. #pocolo