Mum had been ill off and on for the last two to three months. She had water infections, problems with her kidneys and most recently pneumonia and pleurisy. My dad was back and forth to the GP with my mum and on more than one occasion she had been taken to A&E with severe all over body pain. It kept getting put down to pleurisy. On mum’s last visit to the GP (it wasn’t her usual doctor) she asked if it could be cancer (particularly given her family history) and was told that she just had to accept that pleurisy could take a long time to get over. She couldn’t keep down her antibiotics and started to refuse to take them as she didn’t think they were doing in her any good even when she didn’t throw them up.
In the early hours of the 20th April (Saturday) 2013 she called her own ambulance and was admitted to a hospital in Southport, Lancashire. The last conversation I had with her was when she called me from her hospital bed on the Sunday evening and said that I had to help her get out of there and when I said that she was there to get better she said that she thought I would understand and then put the phone down on me. I put it down to the morphine that she was on. When I called the hospital the next day (I forgot to mention that I live in London and my parents are in Liverpool) the nurses asked how quickly I could get there, everything from that afternoon onwards is a bit of a blur but my husband sped me down the motorway to get to the hospital. It was then that I found that she had been diagnosed with cancer but they didn’t know the source. This came from the blood count test that they did on her being admitted – this was the first time that she had the complete blood count done. Her cancer markers were over 21,000.
It later transpired that the cancer was in her blood, bone marrow and she had lesions in her spine. She had been complaining about neck and back pain but the GP had put it down to a bit of sciatica and lifting her grandchildren up all of the time. They had more tests to do to try to identify were the cancer may be but concluded with a diagnosis of CUP.
We gave the doctors my mum’s family background – my mum’s mum (my grandma) had breast cancer when she was in her mid 60s but had it treated and survived. My mum’s grandparents also had cancer although we did not know and couldn’t find out which cancer and her cousin had died within the last couple of years of cancer. Mum used to be a smoker (although not heavy) and was brought up in smokey pubs. Despite the various scans my mum’s cancer was not detected and we were told that they could not cure her or even provide treatment since she wasn’t strong enough for the chemo – her various illnesses over the previous months had basically run down her reserves.
We spent 10 hours a day by my mum’s bed side over her last two weeks in hospital. She was on oxygen, sedated and had so many painkillers she couldn’t feel a thing, which is one blessing. Her condition deteriorated rapidly, her mouth was completely ulcerated (with cold sores around her lips), she developed septicaemia and had a stroke which paralysed her left hand side and most likely damaged her sight. Her family are devastated that such a beautiful, vivacious, caring, wonderful wife, mum and grandmother could be subject to such a cruel illness.
On the day before she passed (which was the 3rd May 2013 at 6:10am) we were passed across to palliative care who asked us when we wanted to switch off life support – we were not expecting that question. However, before we could make a decision mum passed away the following morning at age 65 years and within less than two weeks of being diagnosed of cancer. I had thought that we had plenty of time and had gone back to London for a couple of days to clear my head and think things through so wasn’t there for my dad and sister when they got the call from the hospital.
I only hope that her death wasn’t in vain and that I can help in some way to raise awareness of CUP whether that is through fund raising, talking to people or sharing thoughts and partaking in discussions through this website.