Dy­ing at 32

Lisa Wells had only just given birth when she was told the most dev­as­tat­ing news. But it made her de­ter­mined to do one thingé

Woman (UK) - - This Isssue - ✱ To join Lisa’s army, visit lisas­army.co.uk/

All mums have those ‘heart­burst­ing’ mo­ments with their chil­dren. and with my two daugh­ters, ava-lily and Saf­fia, mine were no dif­fer­ent. Such as when ava-lily, now five, ut­tered ‘mama’ for the first time, or when she beamed for the cam­era on her first day at school. For Saf­fia, just 23 weeks old, the mo­ments my hus­band Dan and I have cher­ished are the sim­ple, yet mo­men­tous things – her hold­ing my fin­ger with her hand, her smil­ing for the first time.

But where they do be­come dif­fer­ent is that my chance for more spe­cial mo­ments is lim­ited. Un­like other par­ents, I won’t get to see when Ava-lily or Saf­fia cel­e­brate their 18th birth­days or bring home their first boyfriends. I won’t be able to en­joy shop­ping trips with them or help them pick out their wed­ding dresses. Be­cause ev­ery day since 15 De­cem­ber 2017, just eight weeks af­ter Saf­fia was born, I’ve been liv­ing with the fact that I am dy­ing.

It’s funny how life can change so quickly, so in­trin­si­cally. One minute, my hus­band and I were con­tent, with steady jobs – me a nail tech­ni­cian, Dan a road en­gi­neer – and won­der­ful chil­dren. The next, we had no fu­ture at all. Dan and I had been to­gether since we were 14 and even from those early, fresh-faced days, we’d planned the rest of our lives. Most things fell into place – we bought a house and mar­ried in our home­town of Frome, Som­er­set, in 2008. But there was al­ways some­thing miss­ing – we were des­per­ate for a fam­ily.

As I had poly­cys­tic ovaries, it took six years and fer­til­ity treat­ment be­fore I fi­nally be­came preg­nant. Af­ter Ava-lily was born in Oc­to­ber 2012, we started try­ing for a sec­ond child al­most straight away, know­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties we’d had. It took over four years and four trau­ma­tis­ing mis­car­riages be­fore we got lucky.

Reach­ing the 20-week land­mark in July 2017, we fi­nally found some long-lost hope that this would be our rain­bow baby. Yet hit­ting that mile­stone not only brought hope, but ill­ness too. I had back pain so se­vere, I started sleep­ing up­right in a chair, I had bleed­ing from my back pas­sage and suf­fered with se­vere sick­ness and tired­ness, too.

I went back and forth to the doc­tors and was told I had ev­ery­thing from IBS to a urine in­fec­tion and even had my ap­pen­dix taken out. But no med­i­ca­tion or oper­a­tion could cease the wors­en­ing symp­toms. Googling them, hop­ing the in­ter­net could give me the an­swers the doc­tors couldn’t, the re­cur­ring re­sult was bowel cancer. ‘Most peo­ple get that when they’re over 65,’ Dan said, try­ing to calm me down. But some­thing was telling me I was right to be wor­ried.

des­per­ate for help

Saf­fia was born by C-sec­tion on 20 Oc­to­ber 2017 and I hoped the birth would mean I’d get bet­ter. But I got worse, los­ing 3st in five weeks, while the sick­ness con­tin­ued. When Saf­fia was a few weeks old, I took her with me to see the GP. As I sat down in the chair op­po­site him, with Saf­fia on my lap, I broke down. ‘Please help me, I know there’s some­thing wrong with me,’ I wept. Fi­nally, I was re­ferred to the hos­pi­tal for a colonoscopy, as the doc­tor be­lieved I might have col­i­tis – in­flam­ma­tion of the colon.

My sis­ter Joanne came with me for the re­sults. As we walked into the doc­tor’s surgery, I no­ticed a nurse wear­ing a Macmil­lan badge. I grabbed Joanne’s hand and my heart dropped. Surely not

‘life can change So quickly’

cancer. I was just 31. ‘I’m sorry but we have found a tu­mour on your bowel,’ the doc­tor said. All I could think about was my girls. Joanne held me tight as I shook un­con­trol­lably.

As the news sank in I tried to be pos­i­tive and as­sumed they’d be able to re­move the tu­mour and we could get on with our lives. I had more tests, and on the day of the re­sults, 15 De­cem­ber, I was feel­ing op­ti­mistic and strong. Dan and I went along to the ap­point­ment, and hold­ing his hand in mine, I thought I could fight any­thing with him by my side. ‘I’m afraid there’s noth­ing we can do for you, Lisa. We can now only of­fer you pal­lia­tive care,’ the doc­tor said, gravely.

The cancer had spread to my liver and lymph nodes. It was in­cur­able and in­op­er­a­ble. ‘How long have I got?’ I whis­pered. She told me I had be­tween two and 12 months to live. In that mo­ment, my per­fect world crum­bled.

We left the of­fice and I wept un­con­trol­lably as I tried to com­pre­hend the death sen­tence I’d just been handed. I rang Joanne and told her the whole fam­ily and our clos­est friends needed to meet at my mum Deanna’s house. As we pulled into her drive­way, all I could think was that I was go­ing to break their hearts.

‘We will fight it,’ Dan told me in tears. He had al­ways been my rock and my fighter, but I doubted if we could beat this.

Shar­ing with others

Af­ter­wards, we picked up Ava-lily from school on the way home. ‘Mummy’s not very well but me, you and Saf­fia are go­ing to look af­ter her, OK?’ Dan told her as we sat in the liv­ing room later. She nod­ded sweetly, too young and in­no­cent to fully un­der­stand. We didn’t try to ex­plain cancer to her – it was too much for some­one so young.

I be­gan chemo­ther­apy. It was tough but Dan took time off to help out.

Soon af­ter my diagnosis, I de­cided to share my story on­line with a Face­book post. I wrote about my prog­no­sis and how I des­per­ately wanted to leave a legacy for my girls. The re­sponse was un­prece­dented – more than 400 peo­ple replied in less than 24 hours. Ev­ery­one wanted to help. A friend, Lind­say, set up a fundrais­ing cam­paign and Lisa’s Army was born. The aim was to raise enough to make sure my girls never missed out, even though I wouldn’t be around. We ar­ranged events, from cake sales to men hav­ing their legs waxed for spon­sor­ship – it went crazy. We’ve raised al­most £40,000.

And then I had some help in a dif­fer­ent way. Dur­ing a ses­sion of chemo­ther­apy, a sur­geon who’d heard about my story said she wanted to help. Know­ing I’d take any op­por­tu­nity, I ac­cepted. They re­moved part of the tu­mour on my bowel in Fe­bru­ary, adding five to seven months to my life. I am so grate­ful to that sur­geon.

The sup­port I’ve had from fam­ily, friends and even strangers has been in­cred­i­ble. This has un­doubt­edly been the best time of my life in see­ing the kind­ness of others – and the very worst.

I want to make the most of ev­ery pre­cious mo­ment I have with my fam­ily. Cancer will even­tu­ally take my life but, for now, I’m en­joy­ing the spe­cial time I have with them.

‘I doubted we could beat this’

Lisa and Dan were teens when they got to­gether

Pre­cious mo­ments with daugh­ters Ava-lily and Saf­fia

Proud par­ents with baby Saf­fia and Ava-lily, five

Time in hos­pi­tal may mean more time with her girls

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