The promise that broke me but I kept it
Gemma Dodsworth, 32, from Nottingham, faced losing her son to cancer, but she had to keep her word...
All of my children were precious to me, but the bond I had with my first born was something truly special. It had just been me and Taylor, 11, for four years before Harley, seven, and Harper, two, came into the world.
Taylor was such a dream child.
He was older than his years, polite and kind.
I never had to worry about him getting into trouble and knew when he said that he wanted to be in computers, that he’d make it happen.
We were close enough to be honest with each other, too.
‘You can’t really be thinking about calling her Tiger Lily,’ he said, as he rubbed my growing baby bump. ‘Poor kid!’
‘I like it!’ I laughed, giving him a playful shove.
But Taylor was insistent it wasn’t right and he even had a better idea.
‘What about Tia?’ he said. I said it over in my head. ‘I like it,’ I smiled. ‘You’re on.’ ‘Promise?’ he said. Looking into his brown eyes, my heart was breaking.
‘I promise,’ I whispered, unable to stop a tear rolling down my face.
‘No more tears, Mum,’ he scolded, ‘I’ll be back home before you know it.’ I smiled. ‘Of course you will be,’ I said, fussing around his hospital bed.
Not having Taylor at home was like missing a part of me.
I prayed the nightmare we were in would be over soon.
It had started days before Christmas, when Taylor came home from school with a viral infection.
He just wasn’t himself as he opened presents and pushed his food around.
On Boxing Day, as we headed out to try his new drone, he complained of cramps in his legs and I noticed he was struggling to breathe. Taylor never made a fuss, so alarm bells were ringing.
I took him straight to A&E at Ilkeston Hospital.
It was a relief when they told us it was tonsillitis and gave him a 10-day course of antibiotics.
But they didn’t work, and the pain moved to his chest.
Desperate, I took him back to the hospital where we were told it was glandular fever.
But in January, doctors noticed how pale he was and referred him to Nottingham Queen’s Medical Centre for blood tests.
My instinct told me something was very wrong – and I was right. Taylor had leukaemia. Every parent’s worst nightmare. I had reacted with tears and anger – but when the consultant told Taylor, all he wanted to do was reassure me. ‘Don’t worry, Mum,’ he said. ‘I’ll get through this.’ My brave boy was stronger than I’d given him credit for, and his courage shone from the very start of his treatment.
Taylor started chemotherapy and never complained once.
He always wore a smile and never shed a tear about his diagnosis.
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he made friends with the other kids in the ward and made them feel better.
The doctors and nurses loved how he would ask questions about his treatment with his usual maturity.
‘What a polite boy,’ they would say to me. ‘He’s so positive.’ I was
It was every parent’s nightmare
bursting with pride and when I was by my boy’s side, his optimism was infectious.
But back at home, with my partner Luke, 39, I would crumble. ‘This is so unfair,’ I’d cry. ‘He should be outside enjoying his childhood – not fighting cancer.’
I would have taken it all away from him in a heartbeat if I could.
He was responding well to treatment and doctors were confident about his outlook.
‘I’m going to beat this, Mum,’ he told me with his beaming smile. And I had every faith he would. Taylor had the whole family make up ‘Team Doddy’ t-shirts and wristbands, which played on our surname, Dodsworth.
He didn’t shy away from what he was going for, he faced it head on.
After saying he was worried about losing his hair in clumps, I walked in one day to find he’d shaved it off. ‘Told you I’d do it,’ he winked. That was my boy. Stepping up to the challenges he was going through.
Even though I was fighting back tears at the sight of my son looking like a cancer patient, I was so overwhelmed with his spirit.
After two weeks of chemo, Taylor was allowed home for a few days before embarking on another six months of treatment. He needed morphine, but watching him tuck into a Chinese takeaway in the comfort of our home was just wonderful.
Later that night, Taylor complained of a pain in his left leg and the morphine wasn’t helping.
By the time he was taken back to hospital, his upper leg was so swollen and he looked very unwell.
Doctors gave him an MRI scan and put him on oxygen back on the ward.
I could feel panic rising in my chest…
Then a crash team came charging in and doctors started to pump blood into my boy.
‘He has an internal bleed,’ they explained. ‘We’ll need to put him in an induced coma to find where it is. He’s very poorly.’ I squeezed Taylor’s hand. ‘I love you,’ I smiled, trying not to show him how scared I was.
‘I love you back,’ he said, without a hint of fear on his face.
As he was whisked away, I felt my heart physically ache.
Family joined me as I waited for news – and it wasn’t good.
Surgeons had to cut the main artery in his leg to stop the bleeding.
Taylor suffered two cardiac arrests during the operation and a catastrophic haemorrhage.
As he was brought to intensive care, I rushed to his side.
My boy was covered in bruises and wires, and staff were struggling to get him to breathe on a ventilator.
They fought to save him, but I knew we were losing my soldier. His dad, my mum and stepdad, huddled round his bed. I was holding Taylor’s hand as he took his
last breath. It was 2.05am
on 5 February. Taylor was just 11. As I leaned over to kiss him goodbye, I felt my world come crashing down around me. ‘I love you,’ I whispered. ‘And don’t worry, we’ll call your little sister Tia, just like you wanted.’ Then the tears started and I thought they would never stop. The doctors said that he’d been through so much that his heart had just stopped. The whole medical team were absolutely devastated. Taylor had touched so many lives. Completely numb, I don’t
know how I got through the days.
I consoled myself that Taylor was with his grandad, who had also died of cancer.
Harper was too young to understand, but Harley knew her brother was with the angels.
At the funeral, we made it a celebration of Taylor’s life with fireworks and face painting.
He was carried on a white horsedrawn carriage and we all wore orange Team Doddy t-shirts.
Knowing it’s what he would have wanted, I’ve since set up a Facebook page in Taylor’s honour to raise funds for the hospital who fought so hard to save him.
I can’t thank them enough for making his last days so positive.
On May 21st, I gave birth to Tia Willow Taylor.
Tia was the name Taylor chose, and Willow was the name of the ward he was on. These days, Harley, Harper and
baby Tia are the reasons I wake up every morning.
They will all grow up knowing
what an amazing big brother they have looking down on them with that huge smile. Losing Taylor will always be the
greatest tragedy of my life, but having had him for 11 precious years makes me the luckiest mum in the world.
I would have taken it from him in a heartbeat
Taylor never complained once He just wanted to make people happy
A perfect big brother The kids keep me going