"The phone ringing downstairs woke me up. I glanced over to my alarm clock – it was after midnight. No-one answered it. Dad’s mobile started ringing shortly after. I knew straight away why it was ringing... mum had died.
I remember when mum first became ill. She had complained of farting loads, which sadly I found amusing at the time, and she had also put on a lot of weight around her abdomen. I don’t know if she was in pain at this stage, but she had been to see her GP, and they must have referred her to the hospital for tests. I think it was thought to be something hormonal. It felt like forever waiting for results – blood tests were taken, then more waiting, then scans were performed and it started getting scary. We were told that perhaps it was cancer, but it may also just be ovarian cysts. I hoped for the latter...
I’m the eldest of two – my little sister Alison (although I say little – we are both now in our twenties!) is a year and 10 months younger than me. Our mother, Ethel, was born in Aberdeen and our father, John, was born in Motherwell. I don’t remember the details of how mum and dad met, but soon after, they were married. I was born in January 1982, and Alison followed shortly at the end of 1983. Alison and I had a happy childhood. Unlike some of my friends, Alison and I were the best of friends. We did have our moments, but the majority of the time we were as close as could be.
Alison and I were watching TV after school in the living room of our family home in Aberdeen. Mum was still in hospital at this stage, and when dad came back he had bad news. He opened the living room door, stood there and just said ‘Mum has cancer’. I was speechless; I guess that’s what shock does to you. I didn’t have a clue what to say. I was 16 years old and for the past few days I had been trying to keep on top of things at the house with mum in hospital, but I didn’t at all expect that our worst nightmares would come true. I started to cry, got up and gave dad a hug. Ali joined in. I felt lost. What did this mean? We had so many questions, but nobody had any answers. Mum stayed in hospital for more tests, and also for an operation to investigate further and remove cancerous tissue. We found out the reason why she had put on so much weight – something ridiculous like 10 litres of fluid was drained off her abdomen.
Mum ended up having her ovaries, womb and reproductive tubing removed. But soon enough she was home. Although she still had to undergo a gruelling course of chemotherapy. Alison and I weren’t told much about the details of mum’s treatment, but I remember mum being tired and feeling ill. Dad bought a portable TV so that she could watch television in bed, and we also got a cordless phone so that mum didn’t need to get up if she didn’t feel like it. I don’t remember her ever complaining about the treatment, at least certainly not to myself or Alison – but I think that was more a case of she didn’t want to put us through her illness. Alison and I both had exams that summer, and amazingly we got through them.
In September 1999 I started first year of university, and for some reason I was drawn to study pharmacy in Aberdeen, which meant I was staying at home. In the long run this was ideal, as I was still in Aberdeen to support the family when mum’s illness deteriorated – perhaps it was fate that made me choose to stay – certainly when I ticked the box and chose my university course I wasn’t to know what the future held.
After the chemotherapy, mum ended up back at work. And everything seemed to return to normal...