Not you too, Mum?
Zoe was diagnosed with breast cancer just weeks before her mum Kath was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. It was double the devastating news for Zoe who shared her story with Tell and Sell Stories. We placed her story in That's Life magazine and got her money for her chosen charity.
When Zoe found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 40, her mum Kath and dad Jack were on the first flight back from their holiday in Tenerife.
Mum-of-three Zoe had always been close to her parents. She lived next door and saw them every day - even if it was racing her mum to the washing line in their shared garden. So when she discovered her mum had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer just after her own diagnosis, she was devastated.
Zoe had a single mastectomy and was about to start chemotherapy when she was dealt her second lot of bad news.
‘Mum phoned me and told me she wasn't feeling well,’ Zoe said. ‘She was a strong woman and never complained about being sick, so I knew something wasn’t right. I’d just had my lymph nodes removed, but I went round to see Mum with my drain still attached and took her to hospital.'
They were told Kath had pneumonia, but time passed and she didn’t get better. She couldn’t keep food down and was constantly being sick - yet the doctors couldn’t work out what was wrong. Then one day, when Zoe went to visit her mum, she got a shock.
She said: 'I asked if she was alright and she said: "I’ve gone and got my cancer now haven’t I. Perhaps we could have chemo together – we could be chemo buddies." She’d known all day but hadn’t felt it necessary to call me or Dad - but that was just Mum. She was the type of woman who just got on with things and didn’t like to make a fuss.’
Kath had terminal lung cancer, which had spread to her bones. It was too advanced for chemotherapy and her family were told she had months left to live. A hospital bed was set up at home for Kath and Zoe cared for her mum every day - all while fighting cancer herself and undergoing gruelling chemotherapy. She felt sick, weak and her hair was falling out.
‘I didn’t want Mum to see me bald so I made sure I wore a wig around her all the time,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t easy juggling everything, but I would do anything for my parents – just like any other son or daughter would.’
Kath was bedbound for six months.
‘One minute it seemed like Mum was going to lose her battle, the next she was fine and reeling off answers to quiz show The Chase on TV,’ said Zoe. ‘I began to realise she was hanging on, not just because she was a strong woman, but for me – to make sure I was going to be OK.’
Zoe slept on the sofa next to her mum, before giving her a wash each morning and then heading back home – next door – to see her husband Garry and get her three sons, Liam, now 19, Nathan 17, and Arron, 12, ready for school.
In August 2014, when Zoe had just two final radiotherapy sessions left, her mother passed away aged 68.
‘It broke my heart,’ said Zoe. ‘I’d been upset to see her suffering, but I couldn’t bear her not being around anymore. The next day I had to have radiotherapy and I went in sobbing – until I heard that Annie Lennox song with the high-pitched line ‘Must be talking to an angel’ start playing. Mum and I had once sung it together, badly, like a pair of idiots and had joked about it ever since. I’m not a spiritual person but thought it must be Mum telling me to sort myself out – whatever it meant, it certainly worked.’
With the support of her family and close group of girl-friends whom she calls ‘my army’, Zoe is doing well and has yearly mammograms and regular check-ups.
Last year, Zoe and her sister celebrated Mother's Day at a Chinese restaurant where their parents used to take them for family meals and special occasions. They shared funny stories and memories about their mum. And Zoe still sends her mum flowers on Mother's Day, which her dad places next to his wedding photo.
'Life is definitely less sparkly without Mum around, but she taught me so much and her strong character, sense of humour and traditional morals live on in me.’