At the age of 13, I may not have realised it, but I had it all. I had an amazing, intelligent father who would do anything to make my goals happen, you could ask him to build something and he could do it, complete with a cheeky sense of humour there was never a dull moment in his work shed.
I had a mother who was the life of the party, she could walk into a room and make everyone laugh and smile. She had this mischievous smile and could make anyone feel important and heard-because with her they were heard and important. She was so incredibly talented at everything she did.
They both were hard workers, my parents built their dream home together and taught me many of the values they possessed.
I remember going to stay at a friend’s place for a week, I can't quite remember why, but I do remember going home and being so beyond excited to get home. The family friend took me to the neighbours where my dad was, I remember thinking 'this is weird but ok'. We went inside and I remember starting to feel sick to my stomach. Dad sat me down, and then he said the words no one wants to hear.
Mum had been diagnosed with bowel and secondary cancer. I heard the words, but the words did not sink in. I don't think they sunk in for a good week. How can something like that sink in for a 13 year old? What did this mean? Mum was going to be ok right? She could beat this can't she?
School life was never the same. Suddenly, I became the 'Girl whose mum had cancer'. I was handled with kid gloves when what I really needed was to be treated like a normal student. My group of friends did not understand what was going through my head and changed the topic if I brought it up, even though I just needed for them to listen.
One friend listened. She did not offer comfort. She did not offer words of advice or wisdom. On my worst days she listened in silence, when I was absolutely terrified by what I had seen, or heard, she would simply sit with me in silence and put her arm around me. That one act meant the world to me. She did not treat me differently, to her I was simply Sam the horse crazy friend.
The following months were a blur. Mum was doing chemotherapy every fortnight. She tried three different types of treatment. She was determined to beat the cancer. She sure as hell did not let it slow her down. She still attended the National Youth Camp (Charolais) and the National Show and Sale-both of which she organised while sick. Both yearly events were her passion, so much so that she had already started planning the following years events. The events she would not get to see.
In December, my mum and I were out washing the horses and getting ready for a competition that dad was taking me to (Dad was not a horse person but he tried). She sat in her wheelchair, cheese, and bickies and appletiser, it was a perfect afternoon. A song came on 'You Raise Me Up' by Westlife. I can still remember the conversation as if it were yesterday, it was the first reality check that I was given, maybe she can't win this battle. “Sammo when I'm gone, play that song at my funeral for me”. My heart plummeted. I held myself together, I had become good at doing that by this point in time. I put my head under the horse’s neck “Mum, I'd have forgotten that by the time your funeral comes in however many years down the track”. Deep down, I think she knew. I think she knew she had lost the war. The look in her eyes said it. I had never seen her look defeated, until that day.
Christmas was quiet that year. We all moved out to the veranda and did our own thing. I took the horses swimming and playing in the dam while mum looked out and watched. It was one of her last weeks in the sanctuary she had built herself. We watched our favourite movies together that afternoon, dad was not happy to be out voted on every movie, but he laughed and took it in good humour. It was the last time we were a family. A happy family.
Mum came to her final horse competition. The Area Championships which I won. I had an unbelievable competition, I looked at mum whilst riding out of the ring, the blue satin ribbon on my horse’s neck for first place in the dressage, the smile on her face as she stood up with help, the pride she had for me in that moment is something I will never forget. Shortly after that she had to leave to go home. That night would be her last night in her home.
I got home two days later; mum was already at our small regional hospital. She was being made comfortable. By the time I got there, we could not touch her, it was painful and left bruises on her. We could not hug her. I could not give her a final kiss goodbye. I could not hold her hand. I could only sit with her and with dad. On the 13th of January 2007, I went home, needing some time to pull myself back together. I never made it back to the hospital for one last goodbye.
On the 13th of January 2007, Christine Ann Clayton, wife to Andrew Charles Clayton, mother to Samantha Ann Clayton, lost her battle to Bowel Cancer.
I was 14 when she died. In a small rural community, everyone watches you wanting to know that you are ok but forgets that grief does not have a timeline. There are still days where something will creep up and remind me of what happened. It could be the smell of her perfume. A photo, or mum's favourite colour, pink.... bright pink. To have memories triggered by these things I am starting to learn is normal and it is ok to feel hurt, and happiness and laugh at a funny memory all at the same time. It is normal.
There will always be good days, there will always be bad days. And that is ok. Losing a loved one to cancer, or a loved one in anyway is something that we never get over, we simply learn how to live with that pain.
I am now 29 years old and knowing my history, testing has started, completing my first colonoscopy this year (which came back completely clear). Once again, my friend who stood by my side through high school, through mum being sick and every other curve ball that has been thrown at me, was by my side again. She has listened to every melt down I have had and every fear I had, knowing full well everything would be ok.
You feel isolated. No one knows how you feel. You do not know how to communicate what is going through your head. You feel like you need to be ok for everyone else, like you have to be the rock for everyone.
I want you to know that everything you feel, everything that you are thinking is completely normal! Whatever normal may be in your situation, it is ok. You are not alone, there are others who can relate to you. Do not go through this by yourself. Even if what you say makes no sense to you, it will make sense to someone who has been in a similar situation.
When it all becomes too much, take 5 minutes for yourself. You'd be amazed at how 5 minutes can help you. Cry, read something, listen to a short podcast, listen to your favourite songs on repeat, whatever you need to do. Then start by focusing on one breath at a time, one step at a time, one decision at a time, one day at a time. Break everything down into small achievable pieces. Sometimes it is what we need to do.
You can do this. You have made it through all your worse days to this point. You can make it through this. I promise, you can.