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
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