Mum and daughter with arms around each other standing in front of a Christmas tree

Amy & Cathi

Amy's mum, Cathi, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer aged 49. She had a Whipple's procedure but sadly the cancer spread. She passed away aged 51. Amy talks about her mum's determination to live life to the full and reflects on how much she is missed.

In 2015, aged 49, my mum started suffering from lower back pain, stomach aches and then became quite jaundiced. To start with Mum was unsure why she was suffering from back pains and stomach aches but just thought it was probably from working and age. She was Head of Drama at a secondary school and was on the go constantly.

Mum had lots of tests

When the symptoms did not go and she became jaundiced she went to the doctors who completed blood tests and Mum was sent to A&E. This was awful for my mum, she did not like hospitals especially when she was put on different wards. After many tests, there was a lot of uncertainty, but they came to the decision it was pancreatitis. We all thought, ‘ok, pancreatitis, we can all cope with that. Mum will get through that, it’s not overly life threatening, is it?’

Getting the diagnosis

However, more time in hospital, more tests and with her health continuing to deteriorate, Mum finally got the news, ‘sorry you have pancreatic cancer’. How could my mum, so young, so full of life have cancer? Of course, she struggled to tell me this news as her daughter. I overheard it over a phone call but ever the optimist my mum said, ‘don’t worry darling, I just have to have an operation they’ll remove the cancer and then I’ll have a bit of chemo and it’ll be all ok’.

I remember later standing in Sainsburys with my mum who just answered a phone call telling her she would have the Whipple’s operation at the end of October. It all suddenly felt very real. My mum would get through this, she was a tough cookie. I was more anxious about the operation itself then the results after.

Mum had the Whipple’s procedure

Fast forward a year, my mum had undergone the Whipple’s procedure in London, recovered from such a massive operation, and even managed to still cook her amazing Christmas dinner two months after her operation. She managed well with her recovery and chose to go back to work even while she was having chemo. She really was such a strong woman, she never moaned, she just kept going. Chemotherapy was horrendous for her and for us, the smell made her feel so sick and it wiped her of all her energy.

She was like Cinderella for her 50th birthday!

Mum ended up in hospital at one point linked to the chemo (something to do with low blood count I think) but it was her 50th birthday and she had a party planned… She somehow managed to persuade the doctors and nurses to let her leave hospital for the afternoon and promised to be back by midnight, no drinking and no being late back! So, there was my mum like Cinderella going to her 50th birthday party and then rushing off back to hospital. She wasn’t going to miss out! Then we were all on the countdown to the end of chemo, another scan and to find out was she ok??

Finding out the cancer hadn’t all been removed

The day came to see her oncologist in London, and I remember being at work texting her asking how it was all going. All ok she said, they think they got all the cancer. The relief was overwhelming. I can’t remember the time between that and the next bit of news, but I remember coming home and Mum being in the kitchen cooking dinner. She turned to me and said ‘I’m so sorry darling, they looked at my scan wrong, something wasn’t right and they didn’t remove all the cancer and there’s no further treatment for me. I’m not having any more chemo, I just want to live my life to the full’.

I felt sick and angry, and I thought ‘how can I ever be happy again knowing my mum is going to die’. I was only 21, I lived at home and I couldn’t imagine my life without my mum, we even worked together so I spent all my time with her. I was also confused why had there been the incorrect information to start with, apparently it was not her normal oncologist at the first appointment, it felt very cruel to have got something so wrong.

Making the most of living every day

The rest of 2016 and 2017 just flew by, my mum wrote:

“I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2015. I’ve had surgery and chemotherapy, but my newest scan has shown the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes, meaning the prognosis isn’t great. Chemotherapy made me very sick, so I’ve decided not to have any more. So I’m making the most of living every day – wearing all the shoes I saved for special occasions and using up all my nice bath salts. I’m feeling great, still at work as Head of Drama and enjoying the normal things in life. It’s hard not to think about the end, but I try not to miss too much of the present thinking about it. Being with my family is a great joy and I make the most each and every minute.”

She was such a strong woman

Mum was taking morphine, and as time went on and morphine got stronger she said random things or seemed to not be as ‘with it’ but she kept trying to be herself and not be bed bound. She was such a strong woman, she was still the mum I knew and loved, and she was inspiring everyone. She made sure everyone knew not to just save things until special occasions, live your life to the full as time is precious. She continued to work until she physically couldn’t anymore.

We had an amazing 2017 Christmas; we knew it was Mum’s last but she was determined to enjoy it all and still cook and be together as a family.  She even managed to come out for New Year’s Day dinner 2018. She had lost a lot of weight, it was hard for us all to see, but she continued to smile and show us how she could now sit on the floor with her legs behind her. She was so strong and positive every step of the way, even though it pained her to know she would miss so much of mine and my brother’s lives.

Mum’s health deteriorated

By the beginning of 2018 mum had deteriorated. She had been in the hospice, and they were all so lovely in the hospice, they really took care of her but she wanted to be home, so we had a hospital bed bought to her house. She was still just as strong-willed, demanding the hospital bed was put in her bedroom not in the front room, she fought for what she wanted.

No one prepares you for watching a loved one slowly die in front of your eyes. Each day they just seem to gradually fade away, not getting out of their PJs, staying in bed all day, sleeping lots, stopping talking etc. I remember thinking, ‘when am I going to have to say my final goodbyes?’

She was suffering, she would have hated being stuck in a bed, people fussing over her, us all being sad, it’s not what she would have wanted. We would all continue to talk to her, we’d been told the hearing was the last to go. Each day a community nurse would come round and help with medication to make Mum comfortable.

On the 10th March I went in and sat with my mum and I looked at her asleep and said ‘it’s ok mum, you can go now we will all be ok’ and at 11:50pm on 10th March 2018, 10 minutes before Mother’s Day, aged 51 my wonderful mum passed away.

I miss her every single day

Losing my mum so young was horrendous, I miss her every single day especially now I have my own daughter. My mum was an amazing person, she was an inspiring, dedicated drama teacher, a loyal friend, she loved strongly, she wasn’t scared to give her opinions and she was always a tad dramatic! I only hope I’m half the mum to my little girl as she was to me.

I wish we could have had the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer earlier, that time wasted when different illnesses were thrown around could have meant the surgery could have happened sooner and the cancer may not have spread. The misreading of her scan after the operation and the false hope was hard to face as well. I wish Mum had known of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer earlier.

My mum once said that she worried that she would be forgotten but how could you ever forget your mum? She was the most amazing person.

Here’s a quote from a letter she wrote me that everyone should hear,

‘Stay true to yourself, love and keep loving even if it hurts because love really is the best thing in the world’.

I love you Mum x


March 2023