“I’m Mair’s sister and was absolutely knocked sideways when she told me about her initial diagnosis of breast cancer. I remember it like yesterday, she phoned me and was so calm and practical about it. I had to put the phone down and call her back because I was in so much shock. Of course I wondered what it meant for her unborn baby, but my immediate concern was about my beautiful sister. She was my best friend, my rock. My world was never the same again after receiving this news.
When I went to see her the following day, again she was so calm. She was sorting through baby clothes and keeping herself busy. I remember she looked pale and I think she was more nervous about seeing me upset. Typical of Mair, putting others first.
My immediate reaction to the devastating news was to help in any way I could and I was fortunate to have the flexibility to move and live nearby.
I still remember with fondness how Mair would refer to her baby bump as ‘baby sunshine’ because the thought of him brought sunshine to her cloudy days. I still sing ‘You are my Sunshine’ to Merlin now. One day he will realise how poignant this song is.
My mother had breast cancer a few years before Mair’s diagnosis and that turned my world upside down. My mother had a mastectomy but fortunately did not need radio or chemotherapy. I couldn’t quite take it in when Mair told me she’d be having chemotherapy. I just couldn’t get my head around it because Mair kept telling me she’d be ok. Well if she would be ok why did she need this treatment? After the baby was born she would then have a double mastectomy and radiotherapy. Again I just couldn’t understand. She seemed so healthy. She was glowing with pregnancy.
When she started her first chemotherapy treatment I was sick with worry in work. It felt like the longest afternoon in my life as I waited to hear how her first session went. I did not know what to expect. I couldn’t believe it when I was actually able to speak with her that evening. After her initial chemotherapy sessions I remember thinking that she made it look easy. She could still carry on with her life, would go home from hospital on the same day and everything still seemed quite ‘normal.’ She was still able to play with Martha although as time went on she did get a lot more tired.
I felt quite helpless throughout her chemotherapy treatment. I remember wanting to buy something nice for her to make her feel that bit better about herself whilst her body was being put through this upheaval. I remember wishing that there was a chemotherapy goodie bag that was also safe for pregnant women. Everything was just that little bit more complicated with her being pregnant.
I felt so sad that my sister was robbed of enjoying her second pregnancy. In ‘normal’ circumstances she would have enjoyed every step of the way, just like she enjoyed being pregnant with Martha. And yet this experience was so very different, it felt so very cruel.
Being pregnant can knock a woman’s confidence, what with the weight gain and so on. Mair had always been quite insecure about her looks and I remember fearing how she would cope losing her hair. I actually had to be cruel to be kind when she had a bit of a tantrum in her bedroom once her hair started falling out. It was a conscious thought in my head to not allow her to feel sorry for herself and to tell her that she could not hide away in her bedroom and that there was no alternative. Fortunately this worked and we went out shopping together. She wore a scarf and we went to choose a nice lip gloss. I remember looking at her and thinking how stunning she looked. She looked very chic and the lip gloss brought out the beauty in her eyes. I thought she looked very French but of course she did not believe me.
I did not want the whole of Mair’s pregnancy to be about cancer. Mair deserved to feel happy and excited about the baby. So I arranged a small baby shower for close family and we all bought Mair a little gift – nothing to do with cancer. I wanted the gathering to be a celebration of her being pregnant and a celebration of what was to be. I would not let cancer rob her of that entitlement.
I remember so vividly having a text message from Mair when she was returning home from the hospital having just given birth to Merlin. She text me and said that she had already fallen in love with him. When she arrived home I can still see her face clearly now as she looked upon her beautiful son with such unconditional love. She looked so proud, so very happy.
Following the birth, Mair continued to have chemotherapy, however it was a different type and appeared to be stronger. It certainly knocked her for six and she was incredibly tired. So tired that Pete arranged a timetable so that family members could look after Merlin whilst Mair rested. It was a juggle, but as a family we worked well together.
As inspiring and brave as Mair was, I will not lie, there were many low days. There were days when she would trawl the internet desperately wanting to find someone else who was going through something similar as she felt so desperately alone. There were days when she described herself as a fat boiled egg. There were days when we too would get frustrated with Mair. There were also evenings when we would read a book to Martha about ‘Mummy being poorly’ and I had to desperately try to stop the tears from rolling down my face. It was all so very painful, just so sad.
Up until the very end, I had every belief that Mair would survive and beat cancer. I think Mair believed this too, although I have no doubt that she was terrified of dying at times. I remember her staring out through the window of the landing and she said to me ‘if it is my purpose in life to give birth to two beautiful children then so be it.’
Sometimes I wonder how I have coped having lost Mair. She was my rock and the person I would turn to whenever I needed support. I think something that has helped me is that I have no regrets. Mair knew how much I loved her and the actual cancer diagnosis made us spend more time together. I spent hours with her in a room in A&E, looking back it was quality time together – just me and her. We shared some of our best memories following her diagnosis too and I appreciated her so much.
As for Martha and Merlin. What can I say about these two precious ones? I am eternally grateful to Mair for bringing these two beautiful children to my world. I adore being an Auntie to them, I love them to bits. There will always be a sadness in my heart that Mair is not here to see her two beautiful children grow up and this is the hardest part of my grief. I know this sadness will be with me until the day I die. And of course I am so sad for the children for being robbed of their wonderful Mummy.
As I write this, I am feeling the magical kicks from my baby as I reach my seventh month of pregnancy. It’s an emotional time because I wish more than anything that Mair was here to share this joy with me. She would have been chuffed to bits for me. On the mornings of my antenatal visits however, I really feel her with me and I feel it is no coincidence that her songs always come on the radio. I have a very strong sense that she will be there with me at the labour as well.
Mummy’s Star is a wonderful legacy to Mair. One thing that she would have really wanted for her children is for them to be compassionate beings. The supporters of Mummy’s Star are the epitome of the meaning of compassion and it is amazing the length people go to in order to support us. Mummy’s Star has been a magnet for wonderful people and it feels like we have our very own community now. Mair would have been so incredibly proud that we can support other women and their families in the way that we do“.
(First written in September 2013, this blog was updated in April 2015)