Real-life

Ch­eryl Smith, 18, had sus­pi­cions about her­mum’s can­cer. Butwhen­the lies be­gan to un­ravel, even she­wasshocked by­whather­mumhad done

Friday - - Contents - Ch­eryl Smith is from Lan­grick, Lin­colnshire, UK

‘It was eas­ier to say to the kids their mum isn’t dy­ing – she’s just a liar’.

Can­cer is just one of those things you think will never hap­pen to some­one you love. Un­til it does. For my dad, Chris, 44, it seemed to be hap­pen­ing to ev­ery­one he held dear. First his grand­mother died of lung can­cer. In her fi­nal days, Dad used to sit by her bed all night, hold­ing her hand while she was hooked up to the breath­ing ma­chine.

A month after Dad’s grand­mother died, his mum, Sue, then 59, was di­ag­nosed with a brain tu­mour. She suf­fered for an ag­o­nis­ing year be­fore suc­cumb­ing to the dis­ease.

Dad was over­whelmed with grief at hav­ing lost two peo­ple he loved so much. I think that’s why it hit him ex­tra hard when in 2010 Mum told us she too had can­cer.

I was 14 and came home from school to find Mum wait­ing for me, solemnly. Dad was in the sit­ting room, his eyes glazed with tears. “I can’t go through this again,’’ hewept. I looked at Mum­for an ex­pla­na­tion of what was go­ing on and she said: “I’ve just found out I’ve got can­cer.’’

My mum, Claire, now 37 (then 34) ex­plained that she’d been hav­ing reg­u­lar check ups and doc­tors had dis­cov­ered can­cer of the blood.

“I’ll need chemo­ther­apy,’’ she said. Dad put his arms out to her. “I’ll go with you to ev­ery ap­point­ment,’’ he said. But Mum as­sured him he needed to put the kids first. “You should be with the kids,” she said. I was the el­dest, then there was my three younger sib­lings, then just 11, five and one.

Dad was a long-dis­tance lorry driver but if Mum was go­ing to be go­ing through such a dif­fi­cult time, we were all go­ing to have to pitch in.

Mum amazed us all with her in­ner strength, as­sur­ing us she’d beat it.

My par­ents had been to­gether since they were teenagers but had never got round to mar­ry­ing. They set­tled in Bos­ton, Lin­colnshire, and were happy. They never fell out and had one of those re­la­tion­ships that just worked. Ev­ery week­end, we’d all pile into the sit­ting room and watch Satur­day night TV while hav­ing a take­away.

Now, fam­ily life was cen­tred around mak­ing sure Mum got to Lin­coln Hos­pi­tal twice a week for her treat­ment. Dad would drop her off but be­cause he had the kids in the car, she’d never let him go in with her.

In­stead, he’d take the kids to town and pick her up later. She al­ways had a plas­ter on her arm when they got home. She’d tell me it itched where they put the drip in.

I used to hug her when she would bring her pil­low down­stairs with her hair all over it telling me that it was fall­ing out in clumps. Then one day, she de­cided to use Dad’s clip­pers to shave her head and Dad bought her a wig and some ban­danas.

Some days she was full of en­ergy, oth­ers she’d just lie on the sofa

‘The look of re­lief on Dad’s face was so sweet. I was so happy that mum had fought hard and won’

watch­ing TV. Dad did ev­ery­thing – the house­work, cooked all the food, but we all helped. She used to take a lot of oral med­i­ca­tion. But sur­pris­ingly she never lost or gained weight – some­thing I was told those with can­cer ex­pe­ri­enced.

Other than the fact that she had shaved her head, she looked ab­so­lutely the same.

There were also some other things that sur­prised me. If I re­fused to clean the house, she’d say: “But I’ve got can­cer.” It seemed like a strange way of mak­ing me do things for her but it worked.

Then one day, Mum sat us all down with good news.

“I’m in re­mis­sion!” she ex­claimed. The look of re­lief on Dad’s face was so sweet, I’ll never for­get it. I was so happy that Mum had fought can­cer and won.

But a few months later, in Au­gust 2012, the tides turned again. Mum told us the can­cer was back. “It’s ter­mi­nal,’’ she said. She was cry­ing and asked me: “How do you feel about it?’’

I thought it was a strange ques­tion. I didn’t give her an an­swer be­cause I didn’t know what to say, I was in shock. To talk about it was to make it real. I didn’t want to be told my mum had ter­mi­nal can­cer, and then to be asked how I felt.

She went around each one of us in the fam­ily, say­ing it was ter­mi­nal and ask­ing how we felt.

Kristie was too young, Karl was cry­ing. What he un­der­stood was sim­ple – if you had can­cer, you died. Katie was quiet, but cried a lot. Dad was so up­set, his eyes were con­stantly red with tears. I would ask her what the chemo was like. At first she had no an­swers and I guessed she just didn’t want to talk about it. But then she started reel­ing off in­for­ma­tion about it, say­ing the chemo would stop her be­ing able to walk.

Soon I re­alised that it was eerily sim­i­lar to the plot of a soap opera we were watch­ing. She made a mem­ory board with my lit­tle brother. They chose photographs to­gether and it helped him un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing.

Fear­ing that he was los­ing the love of his life, Dad ar­ranged a wed­ding. They’d been to­gether 19 years, but it was time to make it of­fi­cial, he said. Mum man­aged to grow her hair back into a crop for the wed­ding day. It was weird be­cause she’d been us­ing Dad’s clip­pers to keep it bald, but it kept grow­ing back stub­bly. Whereas when Grandma had can­cer she never had to keep shav­ing her head.

All can­cers were dif­fer­ent though so I didn’t ques­tion it.

All four of us kids were there for the wed­ding and Mum wore a beau­ti­ful white dress.

As the regis­trar an­nounced Mum and Dad were man and wife, I heard Mum whis­per in his ear: ‘Gotcha.’ Bless – they had waited a long time.

She looked so well, but Mum told us that was be­cause of a new trial drug she was on. It was ap­par­ently slow­ing the can­cer down. She’d go into the kitchen to the cup­board where we kept all the med­i­ca­tion. She’d bite open the pack­ets and I’d think, surely if it’s pre­scribed it would have her name on. I’d look through the tablets and it was just old med­i­ca­tion from years be­fore when she had gall blad­der prob­lems. That and paracete­mol.

“That just looks like you’re tak­ing paracete­mol,’’ I told her one day.

“Oh no, it’s much stronger than that,’’ she replied.

I kept ask­ing Mum if she wanted me to come to hos­pi­tal with her when she went for treat­ment but she’d al­ways brush me off.

“Well if you want to help, you can just look after Kristie.’’ “No, I’ll come in with you.’’ “I don’t want you to see me like

‘She’d been ex­chang­ing pas­sion­ate mes­sages with a guy for­months – it would break Dad’s heart’ ‘Then it hit me – Mum’s de­scrip­tion mir­rored a soap opera sto­ry­line – it was ex­actly the same’

that. Just look after your sis­ter,’’ she said. Then one evening she started telling me about chemo­ther­apy and de­scrib­ing the bed and the nurse draw­ing the cur­tain around her.

Then it hit me. Mum’s de­scrip­tion mir­rored a soap opera sto­ry­line from just a few weeks be­fore. It was ex­actly the same, down to the tiny de­tails.

“That is ex­actly like that TV show,’’ I said.

“Well, yeah, it is a bit like that,’’ Mum said. That was all she had to say on the mat­ter.

Surely Mum wasn’t ly­ing to us? At first the thought seemed ab­surd. But in bed that night, I started think­ing about how her hair kept grow­ing back and how she was able to grow a crop for the wed­ding. How she never let any­one go to hos­pi­tal with her. It just didn’t add up. I kept my thoughts to my­self but started to watch Mum more closely. I had a good friend at school and I started men­tion­ing lit­tle things to him. He couldn’t be­lieve I could sug­gest some­thing so hor­rific. In May 2012 I started a re­la­tion­ship with Con­nor, 18, and I told him ev­ery­thing. He agreed it didn’t add up. But I had no proof, just a feel­ing. So I was help­less. I felt ner­vous telling Con­nor my hunch be­cause I thought he’d think I was a ter­ri­ble per­son for think­ing my mum was fak­ing the can­cer.

One time a friend’s mum who also had can­cer came to help at the house. She told me the things Mum was say­ing about stem cells weren’t right.

A few weeks later I was on the fam­ily com­puter when a mes­sage from a man popped up on the screen. I re­alised Mum hadn’t logged out of her Face­book ac­count. As I scrolled through the mes­sages, I saw Mum had been ex­chang­ing pas­sion­ate mes­sages with a guy for months.

Even though I knew it would break Dad’s heart, I had to tell him as soon as he got home.

I ex­pected him to be angry with Mum, but in­stead he was angry with me.

“Your mum has can­cer, Ch­eryl,’’ he snapped. It was her trump card – she could get away with any­thing be­cause she had can­cer. But did she?

I called the hos­pi­tal and asked for her, but they had no record of a pa­tient with her name. Nor did they know the name of the nurse Mum al­ways talked about. I called ev­ery other hos­pi­tal in the area too – no knowl­edge of Mum.I tried to tell Dad that I thought Mum was ly­ing, but he re­fused to lis­ten and it was de­stroy­ing our re­la­tion­ship. I had no choice but to move out. I couldn’t live in the same house as her any­more.

Be­fore that, mum and I had a huge fight. We started an ar­gu­ment about my sus­pi­cions that she was cheat­ing. Then she started say­ing she felt ill and had I for­got­ten she had an ap­point­ment on the Tues­day. I looked at her with a new found pity.

“I re­ally don’t care,’’ I said. I had had enough.

I stayed with my boyfriend about 5km away from home and hoped that Dad and the kids would be OK. But just a few weeks later, Dad called in tears.

“I’m sorry Ch­eryl,’’ he said. “You were right. She lied.’’ Dad ex­plained that Mum had been stay­ing with a friend closer to the hos­pi­tal as it was eas­ier. That friend’s fa­ther had called Dad after be­com­ing sus­pi­cious that Mum’s ‘hos­pi­tal ap­point­ments’ were al­ways late at night. He’d fol­lowed her and seen that she didn’t go to hos­pi­tal at all, she went into town.

Dad con­fronted her in Oc­to­ber 2012 and at last, after three years of lies, she ad­mit­ted it.

“We need to talk about this can­cer of yours,” he said. “What about it?’’ she said. “Just stop ly­ing to me,’’ Dad said. “I know ev­ery­thing.’’ She re­alised Dad had been told ev­ery­thing and she’d been caught out. There was noth­ing else she could do.

“I don’t have can­cer. I’ve never had can­cer. I haven’t been go­ing to ap­point­ments, I’ve been stay­ing at a friend’s house,’’ she said.

Mum moved out and I moved back in to help Dad with my sib­lings as he had to quit his job to care for them. The di­vorce is not yet through but she lost cus­tody of the chil­dren in court in Au­gust this year.

The younger ones cling to us, as they don’t un­der­stand why Mum did what she did, so it’s im­por­tant we re­build our fam­ily as best we can.

My lit­tle brother vividly re­mem­bers the day Mum broke it to him. He was in floods of tears, as any child would be if they thought their mum was about to die. He’ll never for­get those tears.

Dad is do­ing well. He does talk about her a lot but is do­ing a great role as dad to the lit­tle ones.

I just feel so sorry for Dad. He’d seen so many peo­ple he loved die from can­cer. I un­der­stood why he re­fused to ac­knowl­edge that Mum could make up some­thing so aw­ful be­cause it just didn’t seem like some­thing any­one could do to the fam­ily they’re sup­posed to love.

But she did. And for that I will never for­give her.

Ch­eryl guessed

some­thin not right with g was her mum’s

story

Ch­eryl (mid­dle) with her younger sib­lings

Claire (left) used to shave her head to fake can­cer

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