29 days, one day for each year I’d been alive. From diagnosis to the day my mum died, 29 days, that was all the time we where granted. When you lose your mum, it comes with a dreadful feeling of loneliness. No matter what age you may be, there’s nothing in this world more heart wrenching than to watch the person who made the very fabric of your soul, that one person who watched you take your first breath, and having to watch them take their last breath. Death has never been so real in watching my mum die. You get this feeling of “this is it, your one true protector is gone” you’re on your own!
As I write this, it’s 2:47am. I’m looking at the clock as it ticks by, my mummy’s memory disappearing into the past with every tick. Like a scavenger I search for memories of her, searching for the sharpest, and most vivid memories that I can put into the permanent parts of my mind. My head is swamped with her and I feel my heart has been taken hostage by grief. All of sudden I feel like the world has become much more noiser without her. Its 3:34am, and the hands of the clock sound like drums banging in my ears. Losing my mummy feels vicious. It feels raw. I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be organising my mums funeral 10 days before my birthday, in my eyes my mum’s story was eternal, having cancer wasn’t part of her story. My mum died so unexpectedly, and so suddenly that I didn’t get time to process her cancer diagnosis. It’s only been a few weeks since she died and I feel like I’m living in slow motion. I wake up, I brush my teeth, I shower, check my phone, update my life, all the normal things, but inside my shell every fiber of my being screams so loud for her. You think of all the things that didn’t mean much. The smallest tiniest details, the seat she always sat on in the living room, the black cardigan she wore, her iPad laying with no battery life. I reread her messages, and listen to the voice memos I made of us while she was in hospital just so I don’t forget her voice.
My mummy’s name is Carol Doonan, who until lately enjoyed the simple life. My mum worked, paid her bills, went on holidays with family & friends, and loved the company of her three beautiful grandchildren. My mummy was a beautiful woman, her presence would fill a room, and her laugh was infectious. People loved being in her company. My mum had the biggest heart, and would go above and beyond to help someone that was dear to her heart. My relationship with my mummy was reasonable good, although I would argue with her about getting out, and seeing how Belfast had changed. But she enjoyed the “simple life”, doing her shopping, decorating her home, and having the grandkids over for the weekend. It’s 4:45am, and what happens next is a rollercoaster me and my family weren’t expecting to get on. Let me put this into some sort of perspective. Three days before my mum was brought to hospital she was out celebrating her sisters 50th birthday. The day before she was brought into hospital she was working as normal, doing her normal day-to-day activities. My mums symptoms where minor weight loss, and heartburn. The day my mum was admitted to hospital, March 6th, she was complaining of abdominal pain, was given two painkillers by doctors, and told to wait in the waiting area of A&E, there where patients who'd been waiting there before her. As she waited she got extremely weak and fainted. She was then rushed through the waiting rooms and was put straight onto a hospital crash trolley where she lay for two days and nights. When she came round she met her doctor, who ruled out a number of possible conditions.
The doctor ordered a CT scan of my mum’s abdomen and when the scans came back, he took my mum into a room by herself and diagnosed her with Metastatic Gastric Cancer of the stomach. The scan showed significant thickening of her stomach wall and moderate level of ascites fluid (cancerous fluid) that had built up over the course of two years. Clinical the doctor said my mum had such a powerful mind that from her scan, medically she should have been hospitalised from Christmas. 28 biopsies were taken from her stomach and the results came back as a Linitis Plastica of the stomach Grade IV, the cancer had also started to spread up into her lower esophagus and had also showed an abnormal thickening of the Omental Cake (Greater Omentum). Linitis Plastica is a rare form of stomach cancer and because this cancer of the stomach is rare there is very little information about it and how to really treat it. This type of cancer invades the muscles of the stomach wall making the stomach thicker and rigid. This basically means the stomach can’t hold as much food and doesn’t stretch or move, as it should when food is digested. Basically turning her stomach into concrete. Unfortunately her cancer was inoperable, incurable and the only option for her was a course of chemotherapy to extend her life.
My mum never told us anything until me, my brother & sister were sitting in the same room as her. She got out of hospital on March 9th and on that evening sitting in her seat. She pulled out a brown envelope and told us everything. My eyes just simply flooded with tears as she said the words. All I heard was ‘’CANCER’’, ‘’INCURABLE’’ and the reality of no matter how hard we fight the end result is my mummy is going to die. I could see in her eyes and could hear it in her voice that it wasn’t death that scared her; I believe the thought of leaving her family was becoming a reality. For the first few days everything felt normal, but my mum was admitted back into hospital a few days later because her GP wasn’t happy with the fluid build up. Within a few days her abdomen filled with 8:5 litres of cancerous fluid (ascites fluid). While in hospital they were able to drain it but within a matter of two days or so the fluid came back. In the end the cancer was advancing so fast that when doctors tried to drain the fluid for a second time her stomach walls where completely infiltrated with cancer. In the space of her two week stay in hospital she received, a 7-day course of strong antibiotics in 4 days because of infection from the cancer, but her kidneys could no longer filter everything as normal and were beginning to fail. Her lower stomach wall was penetrated from her side to try and drain the cancerous fluid with six attempts. She had 28 biopsies taken from inside her stomach walls where the cancer had invaded and numerous CT scans. Bloods where also taken from her arms, legs and feet twice a day.
I believe in life, every single individual will have a moment that defines and shapes how he or she goes on living. This is mine.
On March 29th, doctors relayed to my mum, there isn’t much we can do from here. My mummy simply said ''I want to go home now because I need to arrange my funeral and finances''. The hospital worked fast with me in making sure we got her home, on March 30th she was in her own room again. My mummy is an example of the purest, strongest, and most selfless women, especially in how she dealt with this disease. I am truly honoured to have called this woman my mummy. In her final few days she had many visitors just wanting to see her one last time. In this space of time, I asked her was she happy with her life, she responded with ‘‘what more could I have asked for out of Gods life, than to have two good son’s and a good woman as my children’’. I asked her would she come to my graduation, she responded with ‘’Of course I’ll be there, feathers an all’’. She arranged her funeral with me and outlined exactly everything she wanted. She wanted to be cremated with her ashes placed into the allotments at St. Patrick’s Chapel. All money that people would spend on wreaths to be donated in her name to Marie Curie or Macmillan. All off her family to carry a single rose. She wanted people who came to the funeral to know to wear the brightest colours and no dark colours.
On the day she died, just like a dream I had. I was sitting on a chair next to her bed, it was just like I was a small child again, sneaking into her bed in the middle of the night. I lay my head next to hers, and my face next to hers on her pillow, she could no longer communicate, but what I could only imagine was too simply listen. I was crying, I cried so hard. I told her I loved her as many times as I could possibly say those three words, I kissed her cheeks, and rested my hand on her head, and said ''I’d make you so proud of me''and ''I’ll do everything you asked of me''. Nothing can prepare you for when you watch someone take their last breath. My mummy breathed for the last time at around 4:03pm on the 5th April and it was as simple as blowing out a candle on a normal day, It was the most beautiful day too, the sun was shinning through her window. In this short time I believe with all my heart she set us up for what life would be like without her. She told us to take it one day at a time, and when we're feeling the grip of grief, to look for the light and love around us until we feel the light in our hearts again, and to know this was her. In 29 days, I believe my mummy beat cancer, maybe not in the physical sense but mentally. She had to overcome having been diagnosed with cancer; to accepting she may have had less than 10 days to live. She destroyed her cancer mentally, she is a leading example of a true survivor in my eyes.