But most painful part of her story was losing her mum to cancer.
Read her story below:
At the beginning of 2013, I had a massive lump on my neck. Well, if I’m honest, I’d actually had a massive lump on my neck for most of 2012 too, I’d just pretended that I didn’t.
‘This is fine! My neck is meant to look like this!’,
I would cheerfully exclaim to my friends. Eventually I accepted that I wasn’t a doctor, and should probably double-check that my neck wasn’t going to explode.
After multiple biopsies and scans, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I furiously googled ‘what is a thyroid?’ and found many things – including the fact that thyroid cancer is ‘one of the best cancers to have’, as if someone had compiled Top Trumps: Cancer Edition.
To be honest, they weren’t wrong. My treatment was swift and, thanks to the incredible team at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, stress-free. It felt almost like I was cheating at cancer; I was never in any pain, and my somewhat naïve optimism protected me from worrying about what would happen if the treatment didn’t work.
My parents must have been petrified but I never saw their fear, I only felt their love and support. And so many friends got in touch – sending texts, emails or chocolates – that I never felt alone. I was in safe hands.
As I started to get better, something happened to my mum. She was more tired than usual. She was having trouble breathing. Her joints hurt. Even now I’m baffled by our totally different experiences of the same disease.
She was, I have since realised, in extraordinary pain for days, weeks or months, but had never complained because she was looking after me. We soon found out that she had lung and bone cancer, and that it was terminal.
The doctors suggested she may have a year left. She died just two weeks later, on the same day I had a scan that tentatively showed I was about to get the all-clear. Even now I’m baffled by our totally different experiences of the same disease.
Sometimes I forget I actually had cancer, because it was just a footnote in a bigger chapter of my life – the death of my mum.
As anyone who’s lost a loved one will know, grief is a painful process. It’s punctuated by tears (when we had to sort through mum’s clothes) and laughter (remembering when she made me an advent calendar with hazelnut sweets, inexplicably forgetting my severe nut allergy).
Dad and I are terrible at keeping in touch with family and it would have been easy to retreat into our sadness, but my aunts developed tracking skills to rival Bear Grylls that brought us closer together than ever before.
And while at first I found it difficult to talk about mum, they shared stories that reminded me to celebrate how wonderful, loving, and silly she was. Slowly we adapted to this new normal, a life without mum.
Then my dad got ill too. Positive: it wasn’t cancer this time. Negative: genuinely saying ‘at least it’s not cancer!’ is a positive.
His kidneys stopped working, and he was placed on dialysis.
I worried about looking after dad, I worried about how this would impact his life, I worried about whether our family had some kind of ancient curse I didn’t know about. Then I figured – the last few years had been tough, but we’d made it.
And I knew we could do it again. I needn’t have worried, really. Because if I ever panic, I just look around.
And I see all of those amazing people who’ve been with us every step of the way – the friends who sent gifts when I was in hospital, the neighbours who invited us for Christmas after mum died, and the aunts who relentlessly stalked me via social media (you know who you are).
They’ve all stepped up again. My dad will soon be on the transplant waiting list, and when it happens I know we have dozens of people to help us cope.
The last bit of advice Mum gave me was to keep smiling, and at the time – sat in a cancer ward – it felt pretty impossible. But now, knowing that I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by such a kind and supportive community, it’s actually pretty easy advice to follow