My mum, Julie, had been touched by cancer multiple times throughout her life. Each time though, she beat it, moved into remission, and continued to live every day given to her to the absolute fullest. So, in 2019, after noticing some unusual signs with her body she went off to get a blood test.
Her doctor found her white blood cell count was extremely high, but after further testing they couldn’t determine why so she was sent on her way. Later that year, as we were enjoying Christmas, she began to notice more changes - this time with her stool.
Finally, she went to the GP to request a colonoscopy before receiving the worst news we could ever possibly hear. I still remember quite vividly sitting in the oncologists consult room as he delivered the news that mum had a large mass in her rectum. It was too low to comfortably operate on and it was so close to her lymph nodes that it was dangerous to do so.
It was the worst of the worst almost instantly, but he gave us a glimmer of hope in that chemo and radiation could shrink it enough that they could try and operate with the intention of complete removal, but she would then need a colostomy bag which she hated the idea of. Nevertheless, she was determined to start as soon as she possibly could, so a week after her 62nd birthday treatment began.
It would be the last celebration we had together where mum was really herself. Cancer and its treatment take so much away. She kicked off her chemo every fortnight, with radiation on what was her “good” week. The hospital was far from our home and my dad and I had to continue working so mum was picked up by the ambulance with many other patients every day and transported to the hospital for treatment.
She did everything she could, and we had so much hope that this would be the first and last treatment before they could operate. But it wasn’t to be. Just before my birthday in mid-June she was on her break from treatment and went off to get her scans again. The mass hadn’t shrunken to the point needed to operate and new cancerous lesions had appeared on her liver. They decided to do the operation on her liver to remove the lesions, which occurred successfully at the end of 2019.
Before going back into treatment, she was able to take small, planned breaks here and there to allow her to have moments of joy with us. We celebrated Christmas and my engagement. Those moments allowed us to remove ourselves from our reality for just a moment and they will forever be treasured.
In May 2020, mum and I went on our last weekend away to Noosa, her favourite place, where my wedding dress designer also happened to live. By this time, the mass had grown so large that sitting down was extremely uncomfortable for her and was causing her shooting nerve pain in her legs. Going to the toilet was also excruciating and accidents occurred if she ate something that didn’t agree with her.
Despite her pain, she did her best to enjoy the weekend as much as she could but on the final day mum began to realise something was very wrong. When we got home things got much worse before mum was rushed to emergency and then into an emergency operation. The mass had impacted the vaginal wall causing the rectum to leak through the vagina.
On my birthday in 2020, mum was rushed in for emergency surgery and came out with a colostomy bag. It would be the surgery she would never recover from. Her body was not strong enough and she couldn’t handle any more treatment.
Prior to this happening she began getting extremely unwell to the point it was unmanageable for her. My wedding was fast approaching, and mum told every doctor she could that she needed to be there. Her condition worsened and she was no longer able to get out of bed. She navigated so many incredibly hard emotions as she came to terms with her mortality and found herself in tears almost daily.
The nerve pain became excruciating – she started off managing it with heat packs, but it progressively worsened to the point she continuously cried in pain. Medication was changed again and again but mum’s tiny body kept needing more.
The week before the wedding was the second hardest of our lives. Mum entered palliative care, but as always was determined to be at the wedding. She was in incredible pain, but she made it. I will never forget seeing her sitting there smiling at me (as much as she could) as I walked down the aisle. We quickly grabbed some treasured photos before she was whisked back to bed with a friend there to care for her.
I will be forever grateful that I was afforded that moment with her. By the Sunday after the wedding, she had gone extremely downhill, her body began giving up and the palliative care nurses arrived to tell us this was the end. It was a week from that news that she grew her angel wings, a week from then that she didn’t have to fight the intense pain anymore.
While mum’s story isn’t the happiest ending, it was our reality and one that I hope inspires other families to live and give like it’s your last day on this beautiful earth. Those years of pain prompted mum and I to be closer than ever before, it prompted multiple girls’ weekends away which we had never done before and even matching tattoos. Mum lived, loved and cared so deeply about everyone in her world and didn’t deserve the painful ending she got to life.
I hope her story will be one of the many to prompt more funding into research of this dreadful disease so one day no one ever has to have this same fate.
Rest in Peace Mama x