I come from a family of 6. My mother, father, 2 sisters and cancer.
Our 6th family member, cancer, became part of our family when I was 10 years old.
I vividly remember having breakfast one morning as a 10 year old and my parents talking when dad said, ‘We can do that when you come out of the hospital.’
I looked up from my breakfast and locked eyes with my mum. I remember the smile and face she gave me, as if to say, ‘It’s OK, everything is fine.’
When my dad was out of the room I asked mum if she was going into hospital. She replied with a, ‘Yes, but only for a few days. I’m only having an operation.’
We visited mum in hospital after the operation and I was frightened by what I saw. The mum I knew had changed, she looked pale, tubes were hanging off her and her breasts were gone. I still didn’t know what was going on, my parents didn’t say anything to my younger sisters and I.
What followed were months of not understanding what was happening. Mum became very skinny, she no longer had hair and she was vomiting all the time. The vomiting would be so horrific that in the evening my sisters would come into my bedroom, climb into bed with me and we would snuggle together while holding our ears tightly shut. We tried so hard to block out the torturous sounds of my mum vomiting for the millionth time that day.
It was so hard to watch our beautiful mother suffer so badly. I don’t know when but at some point I got the courage to ask her what was wrong with her and whether she would be OK. She looked at me, put her hand on my cheek and said, ‘Of course. I will be fine. I have cancer but I will be fine.’
It took a few years for me to understand that mum was battling stage 4 breast cancer and the prognosis wasn’t looking good. She was only 37 and had three small children aged 10, 6 and 4 with no family support besides my dad.
Despite the doctor’s dark outlook on my mum’s life, mum refused to give up. She fought with every fiber in her being to stay with us. She did not want to give up on her children. Mum fought for a year and a half and by some miracle she went into remission. She was told at the beginning of her diagnosis that this would most probably never happen.
Life went back to normal and it was the most wonderful feeling knowing this thing that came into our home and ripped up our whole lives, threatening to destroy our family, was gone. Our home felt light and free. It was as if someone had opened all the windows to our house and let the clean fresh breeze come in and dance and erase every horrible memory of the last year and a half out.
Everyone in our family had a new lease on life and my mother even said that maybe what happened to her was a good thing as it made us all appreciate life and see our world in a different, better light.
Six years later dad started getting stomach pains on and off which got significantly worse over time. He couldn’t keep any food or drink down and was constantly vomiting. Doctors said he just had an angry stomach. Some doctors said he had an ulcer. Some said there wasn’t anything wrong. But there clearly was. He was so skinny and hadn’t been able to eat anything for almost a year.
Eventually extensive tests were done and the results were horrible. My dad had stomach cancer and it was terminal, he had 9 months left to live.
Every horrible memory of mum going through cancer that I had buried deep, deep down inside me came bubbling to the surface and I was so scared. This time at the age of 16, I was more aware of what was going on. All of a sudden my dad looked so vulnerable, he was the foundation of our family and cracks were forming very quickly.
I remember my dad hugging me after he came home from the doctors after the diagnosis. I could feel his ribs through his jumper. He whispered into my ear, ‘Don’t worry, I’m still going to be here in 10 years.’
The doctors had told him treatment wouldn’t make any difference but he did it anyway. He went down every single avenue. Like mum, he didn’t want to give up on his family, he didn’t want to leave us.
Mum didn’t have to tell us things didn’t look good when our living room became a hospital room. Looking back I relaise that dad had decided to die at home surrounded by his family rather than a hospice. At the time I thought the hospital bed and the nurses were all there so dad didn’t have to make trips to the hospital.
Every day before I went to school I would go into the living room and kiss my dad bye and notice he was closer and closer to death. His eyes were no longer clear, his skin was starting to go yellow and he was so painfully thin it broke my heart.
One night before I went to bed dad asked me to come sit next to him. His skeletal hands reached mine. He told me that a boat was coming to collect him, the boat would be here soon. He said that he didn’t want what I had witnessed, him slowly dying, to effect my life. He wanted me to succeed and to be happy. I went upstairs and cried, I couldn’t believe this was happening to us.
The following week a huge black crow sat outside my windowsill. That night my dad passed away.
Mum came into my room and told me dad had left us. I went into the living room where dad was and sat on the couch. My dad’s brothers and sisters and mum were there around him when he took his last breath. I didn’t cry. I just stared at him for a long time as my aunties and uncles came and hugged me. Mum hugged me and said, ‘Don’t tell your sisters in the morning, they will go to school and I’ll tell them in the afternoon when dad is no longer here. They are too young to see him like this.’
Dad’s funeral was hard, I was traumatized by it. After the funeral mum said, ‘It’s just us now, we need to stick together, we need to look after each other.’
Two months after dad passed away I went to Germany by myself to visit my grandma and aunty and uncle. Mum wanted me to get away from the horrible year we had had. She wanted me to go enjoy a white Christmas and come back recharged and ready to face Year 12.
I cried for my dad each night in Germany but I was happy to be there.
After my 6 week stay, I flew back to Australia and mum picked me up. She was so happy to see me, she cried. She cried too much.
In the car on the way home I looked at her and said, ‘Why do you look yellow?’
Four months after dad passed away, mum was told her cancer had returned and it was everywhere.
How was it possible that life could be so cruel. We had just gone through so much pain already and now our mum? My soul broke for her.
My mum fought her heart out for three long, long, painful years. She refused to give up. Her greatest fear was leaving her children alone in this world.
Most of the time I would look at her and silently ask her to stop fighting, to let go. I hoped that telepathically she could hear me or she could see in my eyes that it was OK for her to go because our hearts and souls were shattering into a million pieces, every minute of every day watching her fight.
Seeing her the way she was and watching the pain and suffering she endured each second of those three years is something that I wouldn’t even wish on my worst enemy.
Cancer is horrible, it slowly but so obviously strips every ounce of who you are as a person and all that is left is a former shell that looks like death.
And that person and their family have to every day wake up and stare death in the face. They have to go on with life knowing that death is just there, in their home and there is nothing you can do about it.
I am so thankful that Andrew was in my life then. He helped me drive mum to her chemo appointments when I had to go to work. He helped drive my sisters to school when I had uni classes in the morning.
The cancer made it impossible for mum to eat and drink. She was constantly so hungry and so thirsty but her body wouldn’t let her keep any of it down. She would eat and drink and vomit it all into garbage bags. There were so many of these garbage bags that we had to store in our garage, full of vomit. Full of evidence that mum was slowly dying. On bin nights, our bins were too full to throw the garbage bags out so Andrew and I would walk the streets, finding empty rubbish bins to dump these bags.
One day a funeral planner came into our house to organise mum’s funeral. I sat next to mum because I didn’t want her to do such a horrible thing by herself. While she was organising her own funeral I thought to myself, how is this fair, I can’t believe this is real life. I cried the most I have ever cried in my life that night.
A few weeks later mum told me that she was going to go into hospital. I thought it was for another stay to drain all the fluid out of her body. I don’t know exactly why but because her organs weren’t working properly her stomach would balloon up full of water, making her look 9 months pregnant. Every couple of days she would go into hospital to drain the fluid.
I drove mum to the hospital the next day. Mum told me to drop her off at a different part of the hospital. I realised it was the hospice. I didn’t know what that place was as dad chose to die at home. Entering the hospice, I realised everyone looked the same, they all looked like mum. That night I Googled what a hospice was and broke down.
Mum stayed there for over a week.
One day I picked my sisters up from school and went to visit mum with them. She was in a coma at this stage. We stayed for a while and then I told my sisters that we should go as it was getting late. We walked to the carpark and I realised I had forgotten my keys. I went back into mum’s room, grabbed the keys and went over to her and planted a long kiss on her bald head. I then whispered into her ear, ‘It’s time to go now, you are so courageous and brave. You are so beautiful but it’s time to go now.’
When we arrived home the phone rang, mum had passed away.
I felt sheer relief that she didn’t have to suffer for one more second. Then I felt so angry that my mum’s life was what it was. Followed by a down pouring of sadness and heartache.
And just like that, myself and my two younger sisters were orphans.
I refused to be present at mum’s funeral. It was the biggest deja vu. Three years ago this was exactly where I was, saying goodbye to dad.
400 people attended mum’s funeral and I could feel everyone’s gaze on me and my sisters. I hated that. Once the wake was over my sisters, Andrew and I stood up and wheeled mum’s coffin out to the hurse. As we wheeled the coffin down the aisle, people sobbed, the air filled with, ‘I’m so sorry,’ ‘This is not fair.’ I hated that people were feeling sorry for us. I wanted them to know that it’s not fair on my mum, not us.
I didn’t shed one tear at the funeral. The whole time I filled my mind with thoughts that removed me as far as possible from what was happening. That evening my aunty gave me a letter from my mum. That letter enraged me. It was full of ‘I’m so sorry I couldn’t fight this,’ ‘I’m so sorry I let you down.’ I was so angry that that was what she was thinking, that she let us down.
That evening I decided how I would keep my parents memory alive. I was going to create a successful and happy life for myself. I was going to show mum and dad that they raised a resilient person who will not let horrible events and unimaginable pain determine the rest of my life. The last thing mum and dad would want is for what we saw and what happened to them to effect our lives negatively. That is what my mum was so devastatingly scared of, this ruining us.
Mum and dad have been gone for years now but the cancer has not. Cancer is part of who I am. I am very aware that I may one day face a similar fate but I refuse to go down the same path as them. I will not let my parents death be a waste. Because of them, I now know I need to be careful, I need to stay on top of my health.
Every year I get MRIs and touch base with specialists.
Knoweldege is power.
If one day there is something, hopefully it will be in the early stages and with the medicine available today I will be able to live longer than my dad who passed at 42 and mum who passed at 49.
The reality is none of us are safe from cancer. Regardless of family history, cancer is possible for all of us. Actually, most people who get cancer have no family history of the disease.
Andrew, our friend Ricky and Toby have been given 1 out of 75 positions to do the Mystery Box Car Rally to raise funds for cancer research.
They are driving around outback Australia in a ‘mystery’ dump of a car to raise money for the Cancer Council as part of the 2015 Mystery Box Rally.
They need to raise $5,000. With each cent going into cancer research.
How amazing would it be if we lived in a world where cancer didn’t exist. That would be a magical place. We are getting there. Slowly but surely.
I’m hoping in our life time this would be possible, a life without cancer.
Unfortunately, the only way to make this possible is with money. Money for research. If only we could make this research happen by sharing this post on social media or with ‘likes.’
But we need money.
Toby, Andrew, Ricky and I are hoping that you reading this can spare a few dollars. If everyone who reads this donates $1, $2 or $5 we can raise the $5,000 easily.
$5,000 that can go towards helping to find a cure.
I don’t want the same fate as my parents did. I don’t want any of my family or friends to go down that path. I don’t want you to. I don’t want anyone to.
It is a soul destroying, torturous disease that no one deserves to go through.
Please help team Toby Wigglebottom help us all by contributing to a cure, to a world free of cancer.
We will be forever thankful for your support.
You can donate here.
And we would absolutely love and be so grateful if you could share this story. Who knows we could even reach more than $5,000.
^ Team Toby Wigglebottom, Ricky, Toby and Andrew