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AUTOBIOGRAPHY FOREWORD

FOREWORD BY: CHRISTINE TALBOT 

ITV PRESENTER ‘CALENDAR’

I think anyone who meets Tracey Barraclough would remember the moment clearly, as I do.   She came onto our news programme Calendar at ITV  Yorkshire in Leeds  around ten years ago to tell her amazing story and to talk about some fund raising she was planning to do.  I was mesmerised by this petite bundle of enthusiasm and dynamism.  She had been through so much and her story was emotional and powerful yet, like the little Yorkshire terrier she is, she had taken on these huge challenges with guts, defiance and even humour.  We were all in awe as she waved us a cheery goodbye and disappeared like a whirlwind out of the studios after the interview.

Tracey certainly makes an impression wherever she goes and, over the years, our paths were to cross again when I heard her speak with passion and emotion on stage.  Her ability to connect with her audience, leaving them gripped, enthralled and wanting more is something to behold.  You could hear a pin drop.

When I later was diagnosed with breast cancer myself Tracey contacted me and helped me with her warmth and understanding.    She knew exactly what I was dealing with.   We are both “take it on and get on with it types” but I was inspired by her ability to grasp control of situations that seem daunting and terrifying and turn them into positives.

Read Tracey’s story and you will also be swept up by the sheer force of her uplifting personality and her energy and passion for making the most of life.  You will taken be on a journey that will make you laugh and cry, but above all you will want to be like her because she is inspiring and strong, despite, (maybe even because of) all she has overcome.   But even more than that, Tracey is warm, down to earth and funny too, she is a breath of fresh air and you will want to get to know her and become a friend as I did.

There is a phrase my family use “Would you want that person alongside you in the trenches?  My goodness I promise you, if Tracey Barraclough was alongside you all would be well in the world.

ASK FOR A MIRACLE, AND YE SHALL RECEIVE

ASK FOR A MIRACLE, AND YE SHALL RECEIVE

A beep of the ‘phone and the ping of an email, both within 30 minutes of each other, interrupted my thoughts as we watched the tv on a cold and dark November evening in 2012.

As I reached out for my mobile to check the incoming text, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and had to read it again just to be certain. Yes, I had read it properly.  I turned to my son and said, ‘OMG I don’t believe this, OMG, OMG,’ I kept repeating.  ‘What’s wrong mum,’ he said, ‘what’s happened?’

I really couldn’t absorb what the message was actually saying; ‘Tracey, would you like my car?  No money to be exchanged, I can’t sell it and would love you to have it.’  The message was from Lyn, my yoga teacher and friend.  Extremely sadly, and only in her fifties, Lyn had quite suddenly almost completely lost her sight through a condition known as Wet Macular Degeneration.  She was, understandably, completely devastated and unsure as to whether she’d be able to keep the job that she loved, or to be able to continue with the yoga class that she had taught for over 25 years, but one thing was clear, she’d certainly be unable to drive again; the text ended ‘there’s no obligation and I’ll call you tomorrow to talk through any pitfalls.’  Suffice it to say, I couldn’t sleep that night as thoughts swam round and round in my head.  The way that it had happened simply blew my mind.

I’d had my beloved Peugeot from brand new for over ten years, and, with a dint in the side panel, it was looking somewhat sorry for itself.  I noticed also, that I had a ‘poor’ mentality when I was driving it, no matter how hard I tried to feel otherwise; and invariably, as was the case with an old car, it had had a lot of work done on it, practically rebuilt in fact, and I was now throwing good money after a bad.

I desperately needed a new car but on paper it was literally impossible.  A friend of mine, Robbie, told me to ask the Universe for a car that reflected where I wanted to be in business and in life, and with nothing whatsoever to lose, this is what I began doing, even though I couldn’t really see how it was going to happen.  I even went to a garage and test drove a brand new Peugeot, but the sales executive soon got fed up when he realised that he wasn’t going to get a sale, and lost interest in delivering his pitch.

For the life in me, I still could not see how I was going to get a new car but decided to listen to what Robbie was saying and simply put my thoughts out there and trust.

It was after 6 months of asking, that the text message arrived out of the blue.  I was stunned.  The following day I spoke at length with Lyn on the telephone, and she explained that she had asked other people if they’d wanted the car but they didn’t, and her own children, who were in their twenties, were too young to be insured.  It was a Mazda MX-5 Convertible.  I couldn’t believe it and as I wasn’t a fan of small sports cars, this certainly hadn’t been on my Universe radar!

She could, of course, have sold it but chose not to, rather than it really being the case that she ‘couldn’t’ sell it. I strongly sensed not only that she couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of selling, but that she wanted it to be a gift for someone who needed it and would get real pleasure from it.

I had one question, ‘so Lyn, what on earth made you think of me then?’  She replied, ‘because I’d overheard you at yoga saying that you could do with a new car.’  I didn’t know what to say, other than, well, yes please!

On the 18th December 2012 the dark blue Mazda came into our lives and I fell madly in love.  Yes, it had its quirks – rain leaked in through the roof for a start and the windows steamed up constantly – from the inside.  But when the sun shone, even on a cold crisp Winter’s day, we would take the top down, crank the heating and the music up and drive with the wind in our hair.  It feels so good!  The Summer sunshine, well, that’s simply something else and every time I climb inside it, I mentally say thank you.

That car, or more to the point Lyn, has changed our lives beyond anything we could have imagined, and it even reunited me and my brother after we’d had very little to do with each other for quite some time.

The best thing of all about this beautiful piece of machinery, is the way in which we received it; 100% unconditionally, which made it so much easier to accept, and if ever I needed proof that a greater force exists, then this was it.  I was filled with emotion too, that despite experiencing her own sadness and life-changing ill health, Lyn had thought of others.  I’ll always remember that.

Afterwards, I was able to sell the Peugeot, which meant I was then able to pay the mortgage; I had been wondering how I would be able to manage that month’s payment.

I’m still as besotted with the car now as I was then, and I do seem to have a different mindset when driving it, which also serves as a reminder that miracles do happen.  And that email?  Well that’s another story of unconditional generosity.  There was certainly something in the air that night.

A happy Christmas to you all, yes miracles do happen.

x

Tracey Barraclough

www.traceybarraclough.org.uk

Link

Today son, especially today, I am bursting with pride; paradoxically, I’m also feeling an acute sense of loss, with waves of emotion that are threatening to overwhelm.

It’s hard to believe that you are going to Uni – I don’t think it was on the radar for either of us, it just seems to be something that’s evolved.

I remember, after you’d had a particularly bad experience at the School where you’d chosen to go in to sixth form and do your ‘A’ Levels, and it didn’t work out in the way that you’d hoped.  Your confidence was so badly knocked that you turned to me and, with a finger pointing to your head, you said that you didn’t think you had it ‘upstairs’ to even go to Uni. I cried and told you that in no uncertain terms, were you ever to even think like that, and that you had it within to do whatever you wanted to do, including Uni if that’s what you chose.

After walking away from sixth form, and without knowing what you were going to do next, you applied for a sports course at College and I saw you flourish in an environment that you enjoyed and your confidence began to grow again.  I was so happy and, extremely relieved.  As the two years passed, it became clear that you were on track to follow your dreams and when you had to resit your Maths GCSE in order to be able to go to Uni, I saw a drive in you like never before, just so that you could achieve it.

As you know, I don’t care what you do as long as you’re happy, but I’m incredibly chuffed that you are the first person in the whole of our family to go to University.  The flip side is that it also feels like the end of an era and I’d give anything for my mum and dad to see you enter this momentous time in your life.  I’m sure they’re looking down with a sense of pride – I’d like to think so, anyway.

In the main, it has just been us two for the past 13 years and even though you’ll be coming home on a regular basis, I don’t know what I’ll do without you around every day.  These past years have been a bumpy ride in the extreme, and I think it’s safe to say that we’ve been to hell and back in many respects.  Throughout, you have been my constant inspiration to keep on going, even when I didn’t feel as if I could or even wanted to, and to see you now having grown in to a confident and level-headed young man, just blows me away.  I love that we communicate with one another, spend time together and your all too accurate impersonation of me, causes me to kink with laughing.  We have our moments of course, it’d be weird if we didn’t, but my God, how did you become so wise!

When I’m fraught, it’s your wise words that calm and reassure me and help me to be more measured and see things in an altogether different light and I’m left wondering, ‘hang on a minute, I thought I was the speaker and therapist.’

I’m so happy and excited that you are spreading your wings and flying off to do what you want to do and gain some independence in the process.  I’m also going to miss you very much.

You’re far more than a son, you’re my rock.  Thank you for making my life good.

All my love, Mum

x

COMMITTING SUICIDE – THE EASY WAY OUT

‘COMMITTING SUICIDE – THE EASY WAY OUT’

I’m often privileged to be invited on to BBC Radio Leeds to share my experience or opinion on any number of topics – usually because I’ve been there.  Tuesday the 19th August 2014 was no exception, and it followed on exactly a week after we all woke up to the heartbreaking news that, not only was the brilliant Actor and Comedian Robin Williams dead, but, that he had taken his own life. 

I, like many others I’m sure, felt sick to the stomach, as I know only too well the unbearable sorrow and trauma that this kind of loss can cause to the loved ones who are left behind, as I was transported back to the moment 22 years ago on the 13th April 1992, when our beautiful youngest brother, Nicky, aged just 24 was found all alone inside his car, in a remote spot 8 miles away from our dad’s house, to where he had driven and taken his own life, poisoned by carbon monoxide.  Inside the car with him were four harrowing ‘suicide’ letters that he had written in his last moments.

You may or may not have noticed that this is the first time that I have referred to the term ‘suicide’.  There’s a reason for this; I can’t bear the word and had said so quite openly on social media sites, shortly after hearing about Robin Williams’ death, which Nick Ahad the radio presenter, had picked up on.

In the studio, Nick asked me a pertinent question off air, genuinely wanting to know, what was it about the word that I didn’t like?  I told him I didn’t really know, and that it was a personal thing and something that just grated on me.  I said I rarely used it and preferred instead to say that a person had taken their own life; I felt that this was somehow a more powerful explanation of the enormity of such an act for someone in ignorance of it; that someone could feel so low, and worthless, and in such emotional turmoil, that they have taken their OWN life. He asked me the question again, this time on air, and I still didn’t know the answer in order to be able to articulate it fully.

Having reflected on it, I now realise that my intense dislike of ‘suicide’ is that it’s to do with all the negative connotations that society has attached to it; that it’s somehow ‘selfish’, ‘weak’, ‘a coward’s way out’, or even an ‘easy way out’.  I’ve heard them all, bandied about in society over the years, not said directly to my face I might add – they’d know about it if they did – but bandied about in general.  Some social media sites were awash with comments and opinions of ‘how can someone like Robin Williams, who has fame and fortune, be depressed’?  

I despair at this level of ignorance, even in 2014. 

Depression is an illness, period.  It’s also complex. The person cannot ‘pull themselves together’; they would if they could, surely? There are many different kinds too; Clinical Depression, Post Natal Depression, Reactive Depression, the list goes on.  Some people are also more pre-disposed to it, for a number of factors.  I work with people with depression (wearing my other hat as a Clinical Hypnotherapist), and I have suffered from it myself due to severe stress, (more than once), albeit a mild form and have had what I describe as emotional ‘melt-downs’. Although I have been prescribed medication at these times, fortunately there has been something within me that after taking pills for a couple of days, I’ve been able to decide, a) that I’m not my mother’s daughter for nothing and b) I’m simply not going down that path.  I’ve also had counselling.  This doesn’t make me any more of a person, or someone else, any less. Have I considered ‘suicide’?  The answer has to be that, in a given moment, yes I have.

As I said to Nick, if I had my way I would also get rid of the word ‘committed suicide’ as well, as this suggests to me that someone has committed a crime.  In fact, it was only a mere 50 years ago that suicide was indeed considered illegal.

I don’t think for a second our Nicky wanted to die, I just think he was in a very bad place.  I don’t think anyone in that situation necessarily wants to die, I think they just want the pain and the emotional turmoil to stop.  I believe it to be a totally selfless act in fact, that they feel that their loved ones would be better off without them.

My belief undoubtedly is that it’s not something that is done on a whim, in fact I would say it’s meticulously planned; but in the end, no-one, other than the person themselves and God, knows how they feel or what they’re going through in that moment.

Easy way out?  Selfish? Coward’s way out?  No reason to be depressed because they have it all?  All anyone has to do, is to stop for just a moment and truly think about the enormity of what taking one’s own life truly involves and means and the possible reason behind it.  I’d say it takes great courage.

I still can’t believe that someone I loved so much, was so desperate, that they felt that taking their own life was the only answer.  With hindsight, he was indeed depressed and this showed in certain aspects of his behaviour, but I defy anyone to actually know for sure, that someone will go to such permanent lengths to take the pain away.  Certainly, none of us did.

At the end of the interview, Nick asked me if there was a positive that had come out of Nicky’s death.  That’s an easy question to answer.  I wouldn’t be where I am now and it’s allowed me to know how precious life is and that I will get through whatever it throws at me.  I owe him so much.

Tracey Barraclough Dip. THyp.

www.traceybarraclough.org.uk

 

 

10 COMMANDMENTS FOR REDUCING STRESS (+2)

1.  THOU SHALT treat thyself as thy own best friend and not thy worst enemy.

2.  THOU SHALT practice and use the word ‘no’.

3.  THOU SHALT drop from thy vocabulary the negative words ‘should’ ‘what if’ ‘can’t’.

4.  THOU SHALT stop trying to be perfect and aim to be ‘good enough’.

5.  THOU SHALT take time out to just ‘be’.

6.  THOU SHALT take a technology break from social media, emails and ‘phones.

7.  THOU SHALT not spread thyself too thin.

8.  THOU SHALT not try to be all things to all people.

9.  THOU SHALT leave things undone that ought to be done and not feel guilty.

10. THOU SHALT schedule time for thyself and thy supportive network.

11. THOU SHALT hold thyself in high regard.

12. THOU SHALT be strong enough to ask for help.

Link

CHAPTER TWO – UNBEARABLE SORROW

CHAPTER TWO

UNBEARABLE SORROW

 I woke with a start! Bang, bang, bang! A frenetic knocking on the front door and I almost jumped out of my skin as its urgency intruded my deep sleep. It was 7am on a dreary Monday morning in April and aware of the time, I felt unnerved.  Who the hell could it be and so early!  As I made my way towards the half wood, half paned glass door I felt sick to my stomach; with their faces pressed right up against the window panes and with their hands cupped around them so that they could see inside were my distraught brother Simon and his (then) girlfriend.  They were both sobbing.   A feeling of panic arose up inside me – what on earth had happened?! 

 As I opened the door and let them in I began walking slowly backwards, trying to escape from what they were about to say, terrified at what it might or could be.  I wanted to put my fingers in my ears and sing LALALA like a mischievous child to drown out their words but I knew I was going to have to face what they said sooner rather than later.  I took a deep breath and braced myself as they blurted out– “TRACEY! NICKY’S DEAD HE’S KILLED HIMSELF’!!! Oh God noooooooooooooooooo. It couldn’t be true!  Please nooooooooooooo.  Not that.  Please not that. Please. Not that.

Nicky was my baby brother and along with Simon they were 7 and 6 years younger than me respectively and boy did I hate it when not only one arrived but another 15 months later!   I was horrible to them both, yet over-protective and motherly.

Nicky was just 24 years old and had been found dead inside his car by two police officers at a remote beauty spot, poisoned by exhaust fumes.  With him inside the car were 4 letters….one each to Mum, Dad, Amy (his wife) and a generic one; ‘Dear Everyone’….he’d driven about 7 miles from Dad’s house where he’d been staying since separating from Amy and down a remote and lonely road not far from where they’d lived as a family.

What a dark place he must have been in.

As the impact of the news began to take hold, I could scarcely breathe.   We huddled together briefly, clinging on to one another sobbing and then I grabbed something, anything to wear as we jumped in to Simon’s car to go to our Dad’s house.  My mind wandered with thoughts of what I’d perceived as ‘problems’ the day before, now seemed trivial and utterly insignificant.

In that moment, it was the end of my life as I knew it.  It couldn’t ever be the same again.  Ever.

The pain I felt from losing him was so agonising it was as if I’d given birth to him myself.   I was drowning in grief and the images of my Mum and Dad who’d lost their youngest child will stay with me forever.

Arriving back home from my dad’s, I jumped straight in the shower.  I wanted to breathe and think and get changed in to fresh clothes and somehow begin to comprehend the fact that my little brother was not only dead but worse, he’d taken his own life.   As I stood there with the water pouring all over me I began to sob uncontrollably after I’d been holding it all in like a bubbling pressure cooker.   Here, I could finally let go in private and have a temporary release before I started making ‘phone calls to tell friends the incomprehensible news.  

Physically and emotionally wrung out as if I’d been through a mangle, I headed for the kitchen to make a cup of tea and as I sat with my hands enveloped around the warm cup for comfort and deep in thought, I was startled when the telephone rang.  It was my Dad calling to say that if I wanted to I could go and see Nicky’s body which had been taken to Airedale Hospital in Steeton.  I felt desperate to get there and Tricia, my friend and colleague, offered to drive me as I was in no fit state.

Arriving at the hospital, a lovely and kind lady guided us in to the mortuary and there he was – my beautiful brother laid out on what appeared to be a marble slab.  I quivered from head to foot as I approached and it wasn’t because it was a dead body – I’d seen those before, it was because it was him, my little brother lying there cold and lifeless and my head couldn’t take it all in.   I longed to reach out and touch him but hesitated, feeling scared.  Sensing my fear, this lovely kind lady took my hand and gently placed it on Nicky’s shoulder.  She kept her hand on top of mine for reassurance, soothing me with her words as she whispered “It’s alright Tracey, nothing will happen if you touch him, you’re safe”.  Tricia stayed close by my side – I look back and think how brave she was – she was only young herself.  As my hand came in to contact with his body I jumped back, shocked that he was so incredibly ice cold and solid but once over that, I found that I didn’t want to ever stop touching him and began stroking and straightening his hair which he’d been growing and was now quite long; how I longed to climb up on to that cold, soul-less slab and lie down next to him, hold him and make it all better, but we had to go.   It hurt to walk away and leave him there all by himself and so with a heavy heart and an aching soul we left the hospital.

 I felt desolate.

Dropping me off at home, Tricia left with a comforting promise to return later and bring her brother, Sean.  We used to go out together and remained close as friends.   I felt reassured that they’d be coming back but I was still very relieved to see a taxi pull up with them both inside. 

Nicky’s wife Amy and baby Rosie arrived.  Only 6 months old and here she was innocently snuggled up in her baby chair blissfully unaware that her Daddy was gone.   My heart bled as I held her in my arms and there and then I made a vow that she would know all about her beautiful Daddy.  Sadly, they’d  quickly run into problems and after an October wedding, the marriage  over by December, Nicky was back living at our Dad’s house – an awful lot of highly charged emotional experiences in a very short space of time.  I now believe that it was this situation that lit the blue touch paper.  Nicky had confided in our step-mum Linda that he was scared he would lose Rosie and he couldn’t bear it.  That thought messed with his already fragile head.

Exhaustion swept over me.  A taxi arrived for Tricia and Sean and as they were about to climb in I reached out to touch his hand and said “Sean, please will you stay with me tonight”?  He looked straight in to my eyes and simply said “I thought you’d never ask”.  I sighed, relieved to know that at least for one night, I was safe.  Few words were spoken as we made our way to bed.   He got in at the side of me, scooped me up in his strong arms and held me tight.

I was abruptly awoken the following morning by a call from my Mum asking if we could go together to the Chapel of Rest to say our goodbyes.   I was glad not to be going by myself and besides we could support one another.  Walking in to the Funeral Directors I didn’t think my legs would carry me and I had to half hold my mum up.  I’ve never seen anyone so distressed and given that she was dying herself I don’t know how she found the strength to carry on.

As we tentatively approached the coffin, each moving to either side of it, the thing that struck us was that there was a big piece of yellow cotton stuck to Nicky’s eyelashes.  My Mum was furious!  We both took turns to try and gently pull it away but it was so firmly caught there, we got scared that if we carried on pulling we’d hurt him or we may even yank his eye out!  In the end we decided we’d leave it where it was and get the professionals to remove it instead.

Eventually it was sorted and we were once more stood either side of the wooden casket and the overwhelm hit that it was him;  ‘Our’ Nicky, in that box wearing his green wedding suit; Overwhelm with how breathtakingly good looking, how young and how seemingly from the outside he had everything to live for.  My Mum just sobbed over his body and talked to him as I looked on forlornly, feeling helpless and as if my own life was at an end too.  Where did I go from there because at some point in the not too distant future I was going to lose her too.  How had our family come to this?

After a while I spoke out, “Mum, would it be alright if I spent a bit of time with him just on my own”?  I was grateful that she respected my wishes and left us alone together.  My mind began playing tricks – I honestly thought that any minute now he would open his eyes and sit bolt upright – that was really freaky but then I just started talking to him and with tears falling down my face and dripping on to his clothes I said “Hey our kid, I’m so sorry that I couldn’t help you, I never knew you’d got so low.  I feel like I’ve let you down but I love you and that won’t ever change”.  I leant over and kissed his ice-cold forehead.

MY BROTHER

What can I say about you to someone new in my life who knows nothing?

I could tell them about your green eyes and lovely smile that drove all the girls crazy.

I could tell them about your dream to be a star, on your saxophone, piano or behind the bar.

I could tell them about your career – a different one every week or the way you argued the toss at whatever price the cost.

Instead, I’ll just tell them about someone special who had a lot of strife; you my brother locked forever in my heart but now in a different life.

1992.

CHAPTER ONE ‘THE SILENT KILLER’

CHAPTER ONE

THE SILENT KILLER 

I was first introduced to devastation at the tender age of 9 when, one afternoon, whilst I was happily playing with dolls and toys on the floor, my Mum gently asked “Tracey, can you come and sit on my knee please, I’ve got something to tell you”.   My instincts told me that this wasn’t going to be good news.  As I forlornly went towards her outstretched arms, she wrapped them around me, held me close and half spoke, half whispered “I want you to know that sometime tonight or tomorrow, your Nana is going to die”.  The bottom fell out of my world.  I adored her.   She was my mum’s mum and at only 52 was dying from cancer.

In later life, mum confessed that she’d been terrified to tell me what was going on because we’d been so close and she honestly didn’t know how I was going to take it.

Bertha Gregory was my lovely nana and I stayed at her house every Friday night.  It was on these Friday nights that she would have a couple of girlfriends round and they’d have one or two of bottles of Milk Stout beer.  They always did a funny song and silly hand gestures about it as well which I’ve never understood; I guess it was something they just made up for their own entertainment!

It was on one of these ‘Milk Stout’ nights that I remember Nana talking to her friends about her breasts and something called cancer and being only about 5 years old and little miss nosy with elephant ears, I asked “Nana, what are breasts?”  She threw her friends one of ‘those’ looks and then said “Well Tracey, breasts are the things on the top of your feet”. It must have pacified me because I just carried on playing make believe.  It’s weird the things that stick in your mind even at a young age.

Of course I now realise that she had in fact got breast cancer and was telling them all about it.  Unbelievably the doctors had been treating her for a problem with her spine after she’d fallen on ice and even put her in a special ‘corset’ to support her back.  This mis-diagnosis I guess, allowed the cancer to run riot around her body and gradually eat her away.

It was after that, when I remember her becoming really thin and spending long spells in hospital.  We’d go and visit her in St Luke’s, Bradford and, as we left, she would stand on the hospital balcony waving us off and looking so frail that a gust of wind may just blow her away.  On a weekend she was ‘allowed’ home.  She spent time at the cancer hospital known as Cookridge in Leeds for treatment too.  In those days if you went to Cookridge, which has since closed, then it really meant ‘the end’.  I also remember her hair getting incredibly thin and wispy although I don’t recall her actually going bald.  I can though, still picture very vividly in my mind, her having a bed in the living room, by now clearly far too poorly to make it in to bed upstairs and my mum lovingly stroking her head and asking if she wanted anything to eat?  “I could really fancy a fish from the fish and chip shop, Joan” and my Mum happily obliged, anything to please her.  She actually managed to eat the fish and enjoy it as if she’d not eaten for months, much to the obvious relief and pleasure of my Mum which probably, in some small way, gave her hope that my nana might live to see other days….sadly that scene of hope seemed to signify the beginning of the end….

Even though she’d had breast cancer, my nana actually died from ovarian cancer.  The breast cancer I suspect was the primary tumour and ovarian, the secondary.   I recall my Mum saying that if you got breast cancer first you could then get ovarian cancer but if you got ovarian cancer first you couldn’t then get breast cancer. 

The spooky thing about all of this was that my great-grandma (nana’s mum) who I’d sadly never known had also died at exactly the same tragically young age of 52 and from exactly the same thing – ovarian cancer.

MASSIVE ALARM BELLS then began ringing for my mum and she became completely paranoid about developing cancer like her Mum and grandma before her.   My Dad used to say to me “Your mother’s going to give it to herself (cancer) if she carries on like this” I guess his way of saying that it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy, imagining something so much in your mind it actually ends up happening.

My Mum I know missed her Mum dreadfully.   At only 31, she was young to be going through this loss and she often talked and cried about her.  It was hard for me seeing her like this.  Not only was she having to deal with her aching loss and being a wife and mother bringing up 3 children,  I now know that the cancer issue hung over her like a big black dark and depressing cloud.

So, when she developed a very swollen and bloated stomach at the age of 51 I know she was very worried indeed.  Regular trips to the GP proved fruitless despite the family history and she was told that ‘it was all in her mind’ that it was probably wind and eventually it was suggested that she went on holiday for a break.  I guess the GP thought she needed to get away and that she was suffering from stress.  In any event, she took his advice and part way through that holiday in Majorca she had to fly back home feeling so very poorly, she actually thought that she was going to die before she’d even set foot on the ‘plane.  Somehow though, and knowing my Mum with her great fighting spirit, she did manage to get back and arrived at the GP’s surgery as soon as was humanly possible.

The next moment she was being rushed in to hospital for emergency surgery.  On cutting open her body, the Consultant doctor discovered a mass on her ovaries so far advanced that after the operation she was told that it had spread, was terminal and in their opinion, she only had 6 months to live.  It was devastating and yet unsurprising news.

Well cancer hadn’t met my mother and she responded to the prognosis with a defiant “I’m going nowhere!” and that is when her fight for life really began.

Personally, I think you get two types of people.  Those that accept the prognosis they are given and curiously, more often than not, die more or less to the day and then the other type that thinks ‘Oh, I don’t think so’!  My mum was the latter.

Mum did everything in her power to stay alive and her battle began by researching every single thing she could about cancer and lifestyle making the discovery that diet was a massive contributor.   With a relatively healthy lifestyle anyway, she still did the mother of all over-haul’s; Her aim, not only to build herself up to be able to endure the poisonous chemotherapy that was set to invade her body but also to eradicate any other chemicals that may hinder the powerful treatment she was to be given in order to kill the tumour.  

So, in came organic healthy eating and soya milk, and out went alcohol and although she drank very little anyway out it went completely.  She thoroughly washed fruit and vegetables, stopped eating red meat and she read every book she possibly could about being healthy whilst living with cancer.   “I’m going to be having enough poison pumped in to my system without any additional chemicals” she told me and she wanted to give herself the absolute best possible chance of survival.

She also began seeing Mike, a Clinical Hypnotherapist who helped her to visualise her tumour as a block of ice and she imagined smashing it to smithereens with a great big sledgehammer.

I saw at first hand the power of the mind and positivity and its ability to create miracles.  She actually went on to live another 7 years. 

To say that her treatment was gruelling is a grave understatement and, one day, when I went to see her I was suddenly shocked by how frail she looked.  I think she weighed only about 6 stone and although she was in her dressing gown and was moving around like a little old lady she still managed to look ever glamorous and had a matching towelling turban on her head; her nails perfectly manicured and painted as usual.

Her hair had begun falling out almost immediately because the Chemotherapy was so aggressive and as a very proud woman she didn’t want anyone seeing her bald head even me.  That was the biggest sadness for her I think in many ways – other than the obvious matter of being on borrowed time.

As well as hair loss, the treatment also caused her to feel constantly nauseous and when she wasn’t actually feeling sick she was being sick and because Chemotherapy is a chemical poison, her mouth became full of agonising sores.  She said to me “You see Tracey, the Chemotherapy may well kill off the ‘bad’ (cancer) cells but it also kills off the ‘good’ ones as well”.  She lost her appetite with the constant sickness and nausea which in turn made it difficult for her to eat and therefore without food she barely had any strength to get through the days….every bit of goodness that she may have had inside her was also being obliterated….and as she was having treatment every 3 weeks, she would just start feeling a bit better by the end of week 2, able to eat a little and then the cycle would begin all over again.

Eventually, over time, merely the act of approaching the ward at the hospital where she received treatment was enough to bring on the feelings of nausea , simply because of the power of association between the two.

My poor Mum.

Despite all of this I have never in all of my life seen anyone so POSITIVE and DETERMINED to overcome anything.  Sheer bloody-mindedness.  I would hear her telling people “I’m going nowhere, it will take a steam roller to get rid of me” and I never doubted it for one single solitary second.  I really don’t know how she did it and that inspired me every day.

I found her brave beyond words.

One Saturday afternoon when I went to see her as I usually did, there was just the two of us sat peacefully in her living room. In the silence I suddenly felt an enormous sense of overwhelm as I was struck with how amazing she really was and what she was going through.  I wanted to tell her how I felt but was scared as I didn’t know how she would react.  I felt really nervous but knew one day I may regret not saying what was on my mind whilst I had chance.  I swallowed hard and you could have heard a pin drop as I looked across at her and softly said.  “Mum…I just want you to know how brave I think you are, I think you’re the bravest person I’ve ever known”…. She didn’t say one word as the tears fell from her eyes and ran down her face and we sat in silence once more, the air heavy with emotion.

I don’t think she realised for one second how astonishing her behaviour was.  I was so glad I’d let her know my feelings. 

The other thing about Mum was that throughout it all I never once heard her complain about the situation that she was facing.  Never once heard her say ‘why me’.  Not once.  Never heard her moan about any pain she was in, never any negativity at all about what she was going through and so when I arrived at her house one particular day, I was shocked to find her lying on the floor.  I rushed over to her “Mum, what’s wrong?!”  She looked up at me and said in a flat even tone “I’m in a lot of pain today” and then that was it no mention of it for the rest of the day and the evening that I spent with her, she just laid there.  I knew however, that if my Mum was lying on the floor due to being in pain then she must have been in excruciating agony.

Although it was a wonderful bonus that we had our mum around for another 7 years after her 6-month prognosis, it was also incredibly hard and a constant roller-coaster knowing every day that the disease would get her eventually – the doctors had said from day one that they could only control the cancer and not cure it.  Whichever way you looked at it, every hospital appointment, every blood test, every scan left us with constantly held breath wondering if this was ‘it’.  To live every day under the shadow of death despite having some quality of life in between I find almost incomprehensible.  How she lived with that insight on a day to day basis I’ve truly no idea.

The one thing she always insisted on was that she was living with cancer and not dying from it.  The medical profession found her a constant source of fascination and she was asked to do talks for them about her experience although sadly this was something that she was unable to fulfil.

For me, it put a strain on the fact that it was very hard to be ‘normal’ around her.   At least I found it hard anyway.  I felt that I dare not complain if I felt tired or a bit off colour or if I was myself having problems because quite frankly they were nothing compared to hers but…I was human and feeling it too and life still went on with all its ups and downs.  This was MY mum and I was going to lose her at an unfairly young age and whilst I was supporting her in every way I could, sometimes, I just didn’t know how to handle it knowing that ultimately she would be taken from me in such a cruel way. 

Diary Entry

THURSDAY 8 JUNE 2000

Hospital appointment in Manchester.

Went in to Leeds first.  Saw an attractive young lady with a bald head and felt an overwhelming urge to talk to her.  I do and am so glad for what we share which can’t be put into words. She has breast cancer which has spread elsewhere.  I tell her she is brave for not wearing a wig and she responds that people like me keep her going – that is good.  Tell her about my situation and she tells me that I am brave but I respond not as brave as her!!  My one regret is not telling her what my Mum used to say – that she is living with cancer and not dying from it as this lady said she was. Not a criticism she is stating a fact.  As I walk away I am in tears.  Meeting her was a very moving moment for me and confirms I am doing the right thing.  She is on my mind all day.