Helen and Phillipa on support after Mum's diagnosis

Thursday 11 March 2021

Maggie's Oldham

When the pandemic caused delays and disruption to Kim’s treatment, daughters Helen and Phillipa came to Maggie’s. For such a close-knit family, that support was really vital, and helped them to support their mum through such a difficult time.

I’m trying to think how lucky we were, to have someone like that as a mum. There are some people who go through their whole life without someone that special. We were so lucky to have had her. She wasn’t just a mum, she was everything. 

Our relationship

Helen: She was our mum, but she was also our best friend. We’d always go away together – me, Phillipa, Lisa and mum, plus the grandkids – and we were such a close family. 

Particularly after Dad died: every day we would see each other. 

But she was at her happiest looking after her grand-daughters. When I had my daughter, I don’t know what I would have done without Mum.  

Phillipa: She was so devoted to us as her kids: nothing was too small for her. She used to say she’d live in a shed if it meant that her kids could have everything in the world.

People would say they’d never known a family who were so close. We practically live in each other’s pockets. 

Helen: And she loved her job at Tesco. She’d pay for people’s shopping if they couldn’t. She’d walk the elderly round the shop and drive them home. She’d be there for you no matter what.  

Phillipa: She called it a job, but she really loved it. A gentleman messaged the other day to say mum was the first person he told he was having a baby.

Can you imagine that? He just went into Tesco, where he saw her every day, and he told her before his own mother. She was just that sort of person.  

Feeling unwell 

Helen: Her stomach problems started in 2019. She had bloating, and found that there were problems keeping food down.

She was referred for a scan, and recommended on a specific type of diet – gluten-free – before and into the pandemic, and that was where we were until the autumn.

If it wasn’t for the pandemic, and the fear she felt, she would have definitely gone to the doctors sooner.  

She was staying with friends in a caravan just outside Blackpool when things got worse.

She was admitted to hospital after vomiting blood. It was a scary, frightening period and she was there for three weeks on her own.  

It was heart-breaking to not be able to be with her.  

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis 

After three weeks, the doctor called me. He said that after an endoscopy they had found it was cancer.

He then said that he couldn’t tell me any more. He told mum the same thing. Just that she had cancer.

And then she was on her own on the ward again –  she had no more information about the cancer and we weren’t able to visit.  

It was only when the tea lady noticed how upset she was, and spoke to the ward manager, that they phoned us and said we could come and visit her on the ward. 

So we drove over from Oldham to be with her.

We’re a positive family, and spoke really positively about it. We’d get through this – come hell or high water, whatever it took. We will find a way.  

She got discharged a couple of days later, and said they’d be in touch. Mum was discharged with no information about what the illness really was, and that uncertainty was really hard.  

On the day they said they’d phone, they didn’t. We sat and waited in the house, but there was nothing. We phoned and found someone, who passed us onto someone else, but neither could give us any more information. 

The waiting and the uncertainty was so difficult. 

Then the next day we received a phone call. That’s when they told us: this is stage four, terminal, and it had metastasised.

There was no treatment that would be available for her, and that any chemotherapy would be palliative only.  

That was it: they said that Christie’s, our local hospital, would be in touch.  

Staying positive

Helen: We stayed positive and together as a family.  

Mum kept working. She was still having stomach problems, but the pain wasn’t so bad. She was still being sick, but we were going for walks and being really positive.   

But within the space of two weeks, she was totally bed-ridden with pain. And we still hadn’t been contacted: no one had been in touch.  

She was in so much pain that we had to get her into hospital by ambulance.  

We had no idea if we’d ever see her again.  

That night I didn’t sleep. I didn’t know where I could go, or what I could do.  

Finding Maggie's

Helen: We needed expert advice, and a much better understanding of her diagnosis than we had had. We needed to know how to manage it better. And it was getting to the point where we were really struggling. I was there, unable to sleep, and googling – just trying to find what we needed. 

And then we found Maggie’s.  

When I turned up at the Oldham centre the next morning. Trish was lovely, and said we should just come in.  

I burst into tears, and told Trish everything – how my mum was in the hospital, and I just needed some help.  

Within 30 minutes, I’d been given a Macmillan nurse’s number, I’d spoken directly to the ward to hear how she was, and I’d been given the number for the Citizens Advice Bureau.

We had made progress on a PIP payment and applied for a disabled badge for parking.

I’d been held, emotionally, I’d had someone listen, be empathetic, and help. I walked out of there after an hour and a half and a massive weight had been lighting off my shoulders. Nobody up until that point had explained the diagnosis, nobody had offered advice, and I was feeling like I had nowhere to turn.

Mum used to call me a rock. I’d always try to reassure her, and help sort her out.

I knew that Maggie’s would benefit Phillipa, my younger sister, and it did.  

A warm and safe space

Phillipa: We all look up to Helen. So as soon as she said she’d found Maggie's, I knew I needed to go.  

I went in, and I just felt this warmth straightaway.  

Trish came up and gave me a big smile. I just felt ok, like it was a safe place.

I must have spoken to her non-stop for 30 minutes, and she just sat and listened, and it made me feel ok.

Even though it was such a terrible, terrible situation, I walked out of there feeling able to breathe and knowing that I’d found the people who could help me.  

Mum had always been the one who wanted to protect us. She’d do anything to make us feel ok. So knowing that we had a place where we could feel at ease, where we could get answers, and be safe – that meant the world to her. Even though she couldn’t protect us physically, she knew we were in safe hands. 

Enjoying our last moments together

Helen: With everything going on from her stage four diagnosis, we knew it would be our last of that kind with mum. Her last birthday, our last Christmas.  

We desperately tried to get her home for Christmas, but it was a real struggle.

It was her aim to get home too, but her body just kept bringing up problems. Christmas and New Year went by, and still she was on the ward. 

But we knew she wanted to come home. So once it was right, we agreed for her to come home. We got pictures of friends and family, filled her room with canvasses, and made it feel as lovely as we could.  

Phillipa: The two men in the ambulance who brought her home said they’d never heard of anyone talk about their family with such pride. The paramedic in the back with her had cried, just out of hope for her to get home and be with her family.  

Once mum got home, it quickly became obvious that we didn’t have long with her.  

Mum's passing 

Helen: Mum passed away much sooner than we were expecting. We were all under the same roof, all three sisters. But we just didn’t have enough time. 

She didn’t want to go. She told me she’d spoken to her dad in heaven and said ‘You don’t want me up there do you?’. She couldn’t believe it had got to that stage, when she had so much more living to do.  

Phillipa: I told her I loved her every single day, and that I was so proud of who she was.  

Helen: She felt like a burden for us, but I’d have had her for years. I’d have broken my back in two lifting her up. I wished we’d have had longer together.  

Phillipa: Christie’s were absolutely fantastic, and did everything they could. Once Maggie’s helped us to get in touch, they really supported us and Mum.  

Helen: Her last year was so tricky, particularly those last six months. Dealing with such a shocking diagnosis, while spending so much time on the ward. 

Phillipa: To receive a diagnosis of that kind over the phone, without preparation, was such a shock. To not be able to see your mum felt awful.  

Helen: If it wasn’t for Maggie’s, we would have had no support. Nobody had contacted us between her diagnosis in September and December. Nobody. If I hadn’t walked into Maggie’s that day, I don’t know what I would have done.  

Phillipa: For me it gave a path forward. It gave a place where we could be held. And it gave us the people we needed to contact. It was a kind of saving grace in all of this. The light we needed to see.  

Helen: I like having the answers to everything, but mum’s diagnosis was something I just couldn’t fix. I needed someone to help me to find the support – and that was Maggie’s.  

Phillipa: There’s a massive hole left, but there’s not a day that goes by that we don’t talk about her, or discuss her, or feel that she’s a part of our lives.

Here with you

If you, your family or friends need support during this time, please call us on 0300 123 180, email enquiries@maggies.org or book a time to visit us.

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