My amazing Mum, Anna
In February 2008 my parents, Anna and Tony, were visiting me in Brisbane while I recovered from hip replacement surgery (I was 29 years old). After lunch one day, Mum started to complain of pain in her abdomen which became quite severe, quite quickly. After rushing her to the emergency department we were told she had a blocked bile duct and gall stones. Her gall bladder was removed, a stent inserted, and we took home a nice container of pebbles.
A couple of months later, Mum got sick again. She turned yellow with jaundice. When we attended a wedding in April she wore blue as “it’s on the opposite side of the colour wheel to yellow” and would neutralise her skin colour!
By the end of that month she couldn’t keep food or liquids down and her stomach became very distended. She was told she had a blocked duodenum. This was operated on but didn’t fix the problem. She was soon back in hospital with the same problems. It was a couple of weeks before the Drs told us she had pancreatic cancer. I had figured it out about a week beforehand and told Mum to get them to look at her pancreas. I don’t know if they hadn’t considered it until then or if they were trying to gather more evidence before breaking the news.
She immediately underwent a Whipple’s procedure. Being a scientist, I didn’t want any sugar coated information, I wanted facts. I knew the surgery and the ensuing chemotherapy wasn’t going to stop us from losing Mum. I knew the statistics. I probably could have been more sensitive to my brothers’ and father’s emotions when I hit the surgeon with a barrage of questions after surgery. I’m not sure they were ready for the answers.
Mum started the usual chemo regimen of Gemcitabine and 5-FU. She never complained though it did make her tired. Soon her veins were shot and she had a portacath put under her skin.
During a break from chemo in January 2009, my parents, two brothers, their partners, my partner and I went on an amazing overseas trip to the UK and Europe. We visited family in England and then travelled to France, Switzerland and Italy. As wonderful as it was, there was always the underlying knowledge and sadness that this was the last time we would be doing these things with Mum.
Life continued on upon our return. Mum sought alternative medicine to complement the traditional methods. She tried massage, Reiki, and meditation. She and Dad attended a week long cancer retreat. She told us about the “Rainbow Ritual” that she had learned. Every time I see a rainbow now, I know Mum is there.
Tumours were later found in her liver. She decided not to continue with any more chemo. I sent her scans to top medical centres in France, The Netherlands, the UK and the US. We were offered no hope.
In June she underwent surgery in Sydney to have radioactive beads inserted into the tumours in her liver. A new television show on radical medical procedures had gone into production and a television crew started following her around. The woman who hated having her photo taken was suddenly demanding a scene be re-shot because she didn’t like how she’d said something. It was all very funny and a great distraction for her. Her television episode never went to air. I do have a copy of it however I have never been able to bring myself to watch it.
The beads made her very tired and Mum continued to decline. Our UK family came over for a visit but she wasn’t up to doing many of the activities we had planned. She also had to keep her distance from my cousin’s young daughter due to the radiation she may have been emitting.
Our visits from Brisbane to Newcastle became more regular. On each visit we could see an obvious decline. Having two friends who also lost a parent each to pancreatic cancer, I was well versed in the signs to watch for. Her liver became enlarged and she became very jaundiced. Her feet became swollen and started to turn purple.
In mid September we visited again. I told my boss when I left that I probably wouldn’t be back for a while. I just knew.
The decline in Mum since the two weeks prior was startling. Both my brothers and their partners came to stay that weekend too. I think Mum had been waiting for all of us to be together. That weekend I told her that everything good in me came from her. I’m not sure if she understood or if she was just being cheeky but her response was “I know”.
Mum passed away in her beautiful home, which was filled with family and love, in the early hours of September 21, 2009. She was 62 years old. The period of time from when she first fell ill to when she passed away was 19 months. A good effort.
The years since have been a struggle for me. My partner and I got married in 2011. We have since been trying, without success, to have a baby. These are times when a girl needs her Mum. There is nothing I wouldn’t give to have her by my side.
Losing her has been the most amazing lesson in life. My one goal now is to make her proud.