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Joanne very sadly lost her daughter Amy to cervical cancer in 2018. She shares her and Amy's story, as well as what she has learnt about coping with grief.
My family, my children and their children, is incredibly close. We have always lived nearby, even moved together, we’re never not together. Our lives fell apart when my oldest daughter Amy passed away aged just 37. Things are still very much a day-to-day struggle and it still doesn’t seem real a lot of the time but we’re trying really hard. If Amy could help someone else, that would be what she wanted, so I hope by sharing this it might give even a little bit of comfort to anyone else who is in the same situation.
Amy was diagnosed with cervical cancer in December 2017 after she collapsed in November with severe pain which we found out was caused by blood clots on her lungs. We initially thought the cancer could be treatable but in January 2018 we were told it was too advanced to operate on and was in her liver, neck and spine. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy followed and her results were looking good, however in August it had spread to her brain. Amy passed away at home. In her sister’s arms, with all of her family around her, at 5.24am on Friday 26th October 2018 we lost our precious girl.
There were so many dark days but throughout it all I had moments with Amy that I will cherish for ever. As strange as it may sound the chemo was one of those times. I went with her for every appointment and we made chemo ‘our day’. We would take snacks and colouring in and settle in for the day, we’d be falling around laughing causing a riot on the ward. Amy had a wicked sense of humour, those moments were so special and I’ll keep them with me forever.
At the end of her treatment Amy became really sick with an infection and spent about 6 weeks in hospital. I was helping her in the changing room and she broke down and said “ Mum, promise me you won’t leave me”. My heart broke at that point but I kept my promise and never left her. I was given a bed so I could stay with her in the room they gave us and those weeks once again were such a precious time we spent together. I made ‘Amy’s inspiration wall’ by covering the wall with cards and gifts. The nurses used to say they loved coming in the room because it was so colourful and positive and it was my baby girl that made it that way. All the family used to visit and they even allowed her little sausage dog Otis in to visit which she loved. It That bit of routine, and some sense of normality really helped too.
At times it’s exhausting, if you need to cry, cry. Don’t bottle things up because it doesn’t help when you’re trying to stay strong for the person who needs you. Just do what you need to do to take care of yourself and if that includes having melt downs when you’re alone then just let it go it’s allowed. When I was with Amy I wanted to be her rock, but when I wasn’t with her my husband and the rest of my children held me together. I would tell Amy the same. To feel as low as she needed to and if she wanted to, then let herself cry all day. One thing I always said was please don’t get so low I can’t bring you back, keep talking to me.
One of the hardest parts was when she lost her hair. Hair is such an important part of our identity and Amy had beautiful long hair. One day she just rang me and said “Mum I can’t do this anymore please will you come and shave my head” so that’s what we did we cut it together.
If you’re a family that laughs and make jokes before cancer, then laugh and make jokes through the cancer. We found cancer jokes. Jokes that people without cancer would think were awful! They helped get us through. Watching Amy sitting in her cold cap, high on her drugs as if she was drunk and trying to eat a sandwich, I was in hysterics.
Amy had some amazing care, some of the nurses especially. When I was living with her in the hospital they would sit with her if I needed to go out. I’m still in touch with some, they really were incredible. Some of her care wasn’t quite as good, so don’t be afraid to speak up, to ask for explanations or options.
This is something I used to say all the time to Amy, but it’s just as true for loved ones. Amy had been for lots of smear tests but she’d also missed a few and she never let herself live it down. I kept saying to her to stop punishing herself, life gets in the way sometimes and I still question decisions we made. Amy was adamant she didn’t want to go to a hospice so she didn’t, I’ll never know if she would have had better care there but it all happened so quickly. It’s only natural to beat yourself up, but it doesn’t help. Regardless I know that we did what she wanted.
There’s no time limit to grief, sometimes it creeps up and other times it hits you like a Tsunami. It changes you, you’ll never be the same person again. There are places I can’t go to, it hit me in Asda once when a memory of being there with Amy came to me. You just have to take it each day as it comes.
Every member of the family is grieving in their own way, different emotions and coping strategies. There’s no right or wrong way to do it and often no words you can offer someone who is grieving. You don’t expect them to understand how you feel or what you need, you just need people to be there.
It’s a terrifying journey for everyone involved, but especially the person it’s happening to. Don’t hide away from it and don’t be frightened about talking about what’s going on. It needs to be spoken about, cried about, joked about as it involves every emotion. Anger is high on the list but by not talking about it, it can make it worse for the person going through it and they can feel even more isolated and alone. Just let them know you’re there, even on their bad days.
Life will never be the same for us. We’re missing a link now. We try though and we do it together. We’re taking it day by day. We talk about Amy everyday and always will so she’s always with us. We have incredible memories. There’s support out there, so find what you need and do what works for you. That could be grief counselling, friends, hobbies anything that helps you get through each day. I found friends when Amy was going through treatment and also made friends through Jo’s who are now lifelong friends. Their daughters might have survived cancer, but they still know how it feels to watch a loved one go through it and have been amazing support for me. I’ll never be able to put into words how thankful I am for them.