My mum was amazing.
I mean truly amazing. Hence the title of my book (‘I Stand Amazed’). She was feisty, passionate, caring and compassionate, the best mother, grandmother, friend and teacher anyone could wish for. In 2012 she was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer. She underwent a new treatment plan in the form of surgery to remove the cancer followed by radiotherapy. In March 2013 she was given the all clear. When she was diagnosed, she was really scared but it quickly turned to anger and then stubbornness. We’d booked a holiday in Scotland before she was diagnosed and the radiotherapy sessions were smack in the middle of it. She was furious that our holiday had to be interrupted for her to go to and from the hospital for Radiotherapy every day. Whenever anyone asked how she was she said she was ‘fine’ in a slightly clipped voice and moved on. She wouldn’t be defined by Cancer and didn’t want anyone else to see her as ‘just a cancer patient’ (her words, not mine). You see, she was a fiery Italian and heaven help anyone who tried to go against her wishes.
So it was a massive shock when she was diagnosed with AML in June 2013. She approached it in the same way as she had Bowel Cancer – head on, strong and determined. She fought so hard to beat it. Unfortunately, she couldn’t.
It was a long journey for her – well, in relation to AML at least – she fought for six months!
Six long, hard months. But six months where I got to experience true bravery and courage and love. Because that’s the thing about cancer; it makes you see things that you never want to see and do things you never want to do. But it also shows you the power of people and what they can fight and endure for themselves and those they love. Often it was the small things. I’d never realised how soothing an ice pop or ice-cream could be until I saw mum battling blisters in her mouth. Then ice pops became the best medicine ever! But she still wanted to share them with other patients to help ease their pain. And the nurses were happy for her to do so. You see, cancer might have taken a lot away from her, but it didn’t take away her core values or the thing that makes her intrinsically her. And that kept us going a lot of the time; the knowledge that she might be weakened and fighting, but she was still the Dee that everyone knew and loved and not even Cancer could take that away from her.
Cancer makes you see strength.
Not just ‘see’ strength but truly understand it. You see, I knew my mum was strong; but it wasn’t until I saw the fight she put up that I realised what true strength is. She smiled and laughed and played games with her grandchildren despite being in pain. She held me as I cried while holding back her own tears. She worried about my dad when we were worrying about her. She never gave in when it came to her family. And so neither did we. We hoped, prayed and fought until the end. Until there was no fight left to fight.
And even then, when the fight stopped, the hope continued. Before she died, mum told me that she knew we would heal and that she hoped it would happen quickly; she knew that we would learn to live without her and she hoped that we would live each day to the full; she knew that we would remember how to smile and she hoped that we would do so every day. (She had quite a way with words, my mum!).
And I hoped too.
- I hoped that I could be half the mother she was (my girls still hope that now!)
- I hoped that I would be strong enough to support the ones that she left behind, including myself
- I hoped that I would make her proud
- I hoped and hoped and hoped.
In one chapter of my book I wrote her an open letter and in it I wrote ‘How do I turn 30 without you?’.
I still don’t know. But I do know that, as horrible as cancer can be, there is always hope; and even if the worst happens, that person doesn’t ever leave you completely. Mum will always be here because she is part of us. And even though it hurts that she can’t be here now, it hurts less when I remember how much pain she was in and how that has now gone.
Cancer is cruel, but time is not.
Time helped us, if not to heal, then to accept. We accept her absence, knowing that if she could have stayed she would.
I walk through life, armed with the knowledge that she gave me – that I am strong, and kind, and caring; and that I am enough. I can not tell you how often that has got me through tough times. And there were tough times – times when I didn’t know how to get out of bed, how to face a world without her in it. But then I realised that I did know because she had taught me.
I wish I could say that the tough times go away eventually, but I can’t lie to you.
They never fully go away and the likelihood is that they will hit at the worst times possible. Such is life. But just because someone is physically gone, doesn’t mean they are no longer an influence. My toughest days show me just how much my mum taught me and the impact she still has on me. I ask myself what she would say to me if she could. It is usually scathing – that was the sort of relationship we had, one where we’d bicker and snipe and argue and love each other more than anything else in the world – but it would also have been honest. She never lied or fibbed, no matter how much I may have wanted her to. If I asked for her opinion then I got it! So, if I am missing her, or struggling, or feel like I need her, I ask myself what she would have said or done, and then I act on that advice. Occasionally, I wonder if I get it wrong; maybe she would have given different advice or maybe I am remembering her opinion on something wrong. But then I think it doesn’t actually matter.
The important thing is that I think of her, I remember her and I remember the morals she instilled in me. As long as I live my life by those then I don’t think I can go wrong – after all, I am my mother’s daughter.
Antonia Chapman-Jones is a teacher from Stockton-on-Tees. Aged 29 she lost her mother after a battle with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. Five years later she published her book, ‘I Stand Amazed’; a collection of blog entries she wrote while her mum was ill. Half of the royalty payments she receives are being donated to Bloodwise UK.