OPENING the two memory boxes she has created for her two children, Vicki Keating wipes a tear from her cheek, knowing that as each envelope is opened she will die.
Inside is heart card for each of Grayson and Rey’s birthdays until they turn 18.
There are also cards congratulating them on having their first home, having their own child, passing their driving test, and every other conceivable future milestone they would have had without her. .
“There’s even an engagement ring for Rey – and I’m looking for a way to get our private number plates, a reminder of getting my driver’s license and seeing the world, which I never would have liked. now has a chance to do it,” said Vicki, 31. .
Vicki was told she appeared to have dodged a bullet after being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer after months of aggressive treatment and surgery, but when she returned to the hospital in January 4 years ago she was told that she prayed for her ‘ d never heard – her cancer has returned, metastasized throughout her body and is now incurable.
The waitress first felt a lump in her right breast in October 2018 while lying in bed with her partner Gavin.
“I gave birth to Rey just 10 weeks before, so at first we thought it might just be hormones,” she said.
“Even when I was referred to the breast clinic at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham for a CT scan, the results did not seem to show cancer and I was given a leaflet about blocked milk ducts and was asked to go home and monitor it. ”
Just two weeks later, she and Gavin received a call asking them to come back to hear the bad news that she had Grade 3 negative breast cancer, one of the fastest growing and most aggressive.
She said: ‘I’ve been told that the disease is rare and difficult to treat because there are no targeted treatments that work, it’s not fueled by hormones or proteins, but it responds well to chemotherapy. ,” she said.
“Looking at our little newborn daughter, like Grayson, then eight years old, I was petrified, but knew I was in the best place.”
Four weeks later, Vicki began six rounds of chemotherapy which caused her to lose all her hair.
She also suffered from persistent nausea and chemical colitis – an irritable bowel – but she knew she needed the strongest possible treatment to have a chance of survival.
Fortunately, chemotherapy worked, shrinking the tumor from 6cm to only 6mm.
Vicki then required a bilateral mastectomy, performed in May 2019, followed by 15 more rounds of chemotherapy and then radiation.
“All I cared about was surviving, my kids having their mom and Gavin having me there – those months of treatment were simply horrible, but every time I needed to be reminded of why I do the same, I just have to look at my family. ,” she recalled.
“Probably the hardest part was not being able to take care of our daughter – I couldn’t push her into the pram, I couldn’t lift her or give her a bath,” she said.
“Grayson was really bad, obviously upset when I lost all my hair, told me I didn’t look like his mother anymore – I just had to remind him over and over again that the doctors were working on his body. marinate better again, but that’s tough. . ”
PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
At the end of 2019, Vicki received the news she had been praying for – all months of treatment seemed to have worked and there was no sign of cancer left in her body.
“While other families have had to lock their doors during this really difficult time, for me it has been wonderful, spending time with my children, cherishing every day and planning together. our future,” she said.
“Every day with them is a blessing that I thought would never happen.
“I feel really strong and healthy, like I’ve dodged a bullet – it’s a miracle.”
But then in September 2020, Vicki requested a breast reconstruction, and a routine CT scan discovered several nodules on her lungs.
“The consultant said don’t panic, they seem very small and a lot of people get these from minor infections – all we have to do is monitor them to see if they develop, ” she said.
One scan in December showed no signs of growth, but then last April, subsequent scans showed a very different picture.
“Gavin and I just sat in silence after being told that my cancer was now incurable and would never leave my body,” she said.
“I always felt this was coming, and just accepted it, but Gavin was crying and shaking.”
On the way home, Vicki knew what she wanted to do – start leaving memories and love for her family when she was gone.
“As soon as I got home, I ordered memory boxes for Grayson and Rey, then spent every spare moment writing cards and printing photos for them to keep and read to remember me.
“I also bought the book ‘Letters from My Mother’, which answers all the questions they might wish they’d asked while I was alive, from favorite foods to my happiest memories. me, things that make me laugh.
“After putting them to bed at night, I would rush to the kitchen table to say some nicer words to help them remember that I have always loved them, and always will.”
Vicki’s doctors wanted her to go right back to chemotherapy as a way to slow the cancer’s growth, but she wanted a second opinion, so made an appointment to see an oncologist. mail on Harley Street.
“He was more upbeat and said he could take me forward for clinical trials – he asked if I would transfer my care to St Bart’s Hospital, where I had a pleurectomy. successfully remove two of the three nodules on my lungs. ”
Despite the success of the surgery, Vicki knew that the cancer had not gone away and would return.
“I also have pleurisy in my lungs as a result of surgery that I have largely endured by not resting as much as usual – but I wanted to be there for my children, to continue to be a mother. . ”
MAKING US MEMORIES
Without life insurance, Vicki and Gavin set up a Go Fund Me appeal, asking for donations so they could give their kids happy memories before it’s too late.
“We were only planning to raise a few hundred pounds, but with support from friends and local businesses, along with the 3 Peaks challenge run by Gavin and about a dozen friends, we managed to make it happen. raised over £28,000 – it’s amazing the support we’ve shown. strangers in our darkest hour. ”
Afterwards, the whole family enjoyed fun days at every zoo, farm and seaside resort imaginable near them – even going to see the kids’ favorite London musical, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
“Gavin and I simply didn’t know how to tell our children the truth without scaring them, but with a local hospice called St Mary’s, we managed to open up these conversations. having that conversation as well as getting ongoing counseling for Grayson, which is a godsend,” Vicki said.
“He is a very sensitive boy, but with St Mary’s and his school – home to two therapy dogs – he is thriving and seems happy.
“The fact that he accepted my cancer would never go and accept it without being too sad, was probably the greatest gift of them all.”
Just when Vicki thought she was dealing with everything, suddenly in December her father, Eamon, was diagnosed with lung cancer and died just weeks later – Vicki and her father were together. ran Race for Life last September.
“Losing my dad was really a big shock.
“I finally got him into the hospice, and my mother and I never left him.
“It’s probably harder for a mother than anyone else, hearing that her husband and daughter both have terminal cancer, but I won’t give up without a fight.
“Dad bought an engagement ring a few weeks ago for me to give Rey, the one I put in her box along with all the other memories – I just hope I will be loved as much as I am. he. The current.”
With Rey, now 3, Vicki says it’s “a blessing that she’s too young to really understand” – but the toddler knows her mother is unwell and one day won’t here.
“She asked me: ‘Aren’t you leaving, Mom?’ I told her that when I did, I would be the brightest star in the sky and one day she said to me, ‘You’re a star too and one day the two of you will be able to. together shine in the sky’ . ”
Vicki has yet to show her children the memory box, saying it will remind her of her own death.
“We’re now on Rey’s third birthday, so I enjoyed tearing that card up, and obviously hope I’ll be able to tear more as the months go by.
“But with the card that I took out, I got another memory, like the personalized number plates I gave them to remind them to get their driver’s license – unlike me – and get out. and see the world.
“We are planning to go to Crete next month, then Disneyland in November, but every day feels like a gun to the head, be it the last vacation, birthday, Christmas or any other anything with them.
“But until that happens, until cancer takes my life, I’m cherishing it day by day.”
Vicki is supporting Cancer Research’s Race For Life series – learn more at race for life.cancerresearchuk.org.
https://www.thesun.ie/health/8489748/my-cancer-agony-leaving-kids/ My little daughter asked if I was a star in the sky like Grandpa, I broke my heart when I told her there is