Lauren was just 15 yr old when both of her parents were diagnosed with breast cancer. At 25, Lauren became the head of the household looking after her siblings. She’s doing great and wishes they had more “time” as a family.
I think the earliest memory that I have of cancer is when I remember standing on my stairs and hearing through the wall my mum crying to my dad because she didn’t like the way she looked…she was going bald from her treatment and she felt ugly. My dad consoled her and swore to her that she looked beautiful. For the last number of years cancer has consumed my life and has been at the centre of my family. I think it’s important that I share my story because I feel that in a way I have a unique point of view, yet it’s a way of living that so many of us have to go through. A lot of people talk about the sufferers and the survivors but I think it’s important to also discuss the impact that Cancer can have on the families of those battling this horrible disease.
My name is Lauren, I’m in my mid twenties and I have recently lost my mam to Breast Cancer in January 2022. I never thought that at the age of 25 I would have lost not only one parent, but two parents to this disease. When I was 15, and my siblings were just 6 & 12, we lost my dad to Male Breast Cancer. At the time, I remember it being an undiscussed issue in my house; We all knew my dad was sick, but nobody used the ‘C’ word. I knew my parents were just trying to protect us from the terrible things to come, but I was old enough to figure out for myself what was going on. In 2010 my dad had been given a terminal Stage 4 diagnosis, and given 2-5 years to live. He lived for 2 years after this – My parents creating more memories than ever with us, that I will cherish forever. At 15, I was curious – I remember my dad going for treatment, I remember when there were days he was too sick to leave the bed – strange to me as he was such an active man. Right up until the end he had a smile on his face and tried his best to make light of the situation; Shaving his head to get ahead of the cancer, wanting to get a shark bite tattoo where his scar was on his chest from his operation, continuing with his Tae-Kwon-Do right up until 2 days before he died. The dad I remember will always be this big, brave figure in my life that would have done anything to get more time with us. My only regret when I look back
at this time is not being open and honest and talking about what was going on. I know that my parents were trying to protect me, but I have vivid memories of them whispering around us, fake smiles and tears behind closed doors that I have to live with forever. When you’re not the one fighting the battle and you have no real way to help, you feel powerless.
Not long after my dad's initial diagnosis came another blow. My mam found a lump & soon later was diagnosed with Breast Cancer herself. She started treatment soon after with chemo & radiotherapy. Both my parents were under the care of the Beacon Hospital for the entire length of their illnesses. I remember feeling so safe and looked fter under their care and it never really felt like a hospital, but became a second home with friendly faces. The staff doted on my big smiley dad who would go to treatment and then head straight back to work. My parents were a unique and memorable case for the Beacon, as it's not often you get a husband and wife attending Chemo together, both receiving treatment and sitting side by side through it all – through sickness and in health. My mam went into remission, which was bitter sweet as my dad was coming to his final battle. I was 16 when he died. Even though my family helped in every single way that they could, I was forced to grow up quickly and take on responsibilities that nobody should have to at that age. My mam had just lost the love of her life and I knew she couldn’t continue on if I didn’t step up. My sister was only 6 and I remember just taking her under my wing and helping to raise her to this day. Even though nobody would admit it, a piece of my mam died with my dad that day. She was the best role model that any of us could have asked for. Not many people would have been able to look after 3 children after all that life had thrown at her in a short space of time; but she did it for us. Life was never normal again after my dad died, always feeling that missing piece when we were spending time together, always that laugh missing at family events, always that empty chair around the table.
We got some good years back and my mam gave us the world and more as a business owner, a mam and a widow. But in October of 2017 the dark cloud came over us again. My mam got the terrible news after she received her results from her yearly scan that she had at the Beacon as a routine check up post diagnosis and remission. The Cancer was back, she was diagnosed with Metastasis Breast Cancer to the bones, spine & liver. This time there was no cure, no magic treatment or medicine, no way out. The only thing that could be done was to start treatment immediately and take measures to ensure that she could have as much time as possible. Time was all we had left and her wish was to see me through college, which she did. Four and a half years she fought this disease. She tried every option available to her; from cold caps, chemo tablets, chemo drips, radiotherapy, surgery, hospital stays, pain management…you name it, she tried it.
The part that people don’t talk about as often with this illness and this fight with cancer is the mental toll that it can take on the family of the patient. I can’t tell you the amount of sleepless nights I’ve gotten waiting for my mam to get her results back, the nights I’ve stayed awake while she was in hospital fighting death, the anxious feeling in my stomach when I was sitting in a college classroom waiting for her doctor‘s appointment to be over that day. She didn’t fight this alone, I was with her every single step of the way.
The toughest time in my mams life carried with it the biggest test that I’ve ever faced myself. My mum fought until the very end, but so did I. My mum was a proud woman, she was independent, she was smart, and she hated showing how much pain she was in. My mum went from cooking my meals, driving me around and just generally looking after me…To me having to put her to bed, feed her meals, and sell her car. In the months before she died I was her primary carer. The deterioration was fast and she started to slowly become less and less of my mam that I knew and loved. She spoke less, she was less happy, she became physically weak. Christmas 2021 is one that I’ll never forget. She fought so hard to make it to Christmas and it’s one that we will never forget because it was our last one with her. After Christmas was over I could see the relief wash over her face and she began to relax. My mum was no longer able to walk, I had to wheel her around. She couldn’t shower by herself so I had to wash her. She couldn’t get dressed so I had to help her. I made her meals, I changed her bed every day, I prepared her tablets, I looked after her every need.
The day before New Year’s Eve we had a visit from the home help nurses. This was the first time that my mum had accepted this outside help and as I had been doing everything up until this point. I’ll never forget the conversation that I had with my mam that evening after the nurse had told us that it may be better for her to be in a hospice at this time. That night, I held her hand, I sat on her bed and I looked into her eyes as she told me “I'm tired Lauren, I’m ready to go”. I reassured her that everything was going to be okay and that I had everything under control. I told her that her time had come to rest and relax and just take a deep breath. I told her that when she was ready to go she could go to my dad. At 25 I never thought that my mam would tell me that she was ready to die, but she did. I cried myself hard to sleep that night, behind closed doors. The next day, New Year’s Eve of 2021, my mum was brought to Wicklow Hospice. The nurses and doctors at the hospice were amazed that I was able to take care of her so well while she was at such an advanced stage. In the early hours of the 2nd of January 2022, mam had passed away. That night is one that I will never forget. I stayed with my mum and my two siblings for over 12 hours in that room with her until she took her final breath. I can almost hear the tears from my brother, I can hear the gargling noise from my mam as she couldn’t swallow any more, I can still remember what we watch on the TV that night. I held my little sisters hand and we waited for her to die. This wasn’t something that we had to do but it was something that I will never regret doing. Right there until the very end by her side, just the way she would’ve wanted.
I still remember the months before where I cried myself to sleep. I still remember how I wanted it all to end because I just couldn’t take care of her anymore and I was getting weaker myself. I remember feeling like there was nobody to reach out to even though I had a crowd of people supporting me. Being the family member of someone fighting this disease is a mental struggle that isn’t talked about enough. Even to this day I have battles as a result of this that I must carry into my future… Could this be me someday? Could I carry the gene? These are all questions that I could find out answers to, but for right now I just want to live my life cancer free.