Sunday 18 August 2019

'She was strong and she kept smiling' - heartbroken son loses brave mum (58) to cancer just months after she got the all-clear

Keith Brady and his mother Bernie on her wedding day.
Keith Brady and his mother Bernie on her wedding day.

Keith Brady

Last January, when Keith Brady's mother told her family that she was finally cancer-free, the whole family celebrated. The Dublin woman (58) had beaten cervical cancer, doctors confirmed, and she walked out of St James's hospital feeling on top of the world.

However, within the next few months, Bernie Brady-Walsh developed a sore hip and had to take time off work while doctors investigated the problem

On March 4, Keith (23) decided to surprise his mother when he travelled home from Vancouver, Canada.

Here Keith tells the harrowing story of how he came home to some devastating news. His beloved mother would eventually be diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I got a call off my Mam’s friend to say my Mam is in Tallaght Hospital at the moment, they were doing tests on her kidneys as she went in that day with near kidney failure.

I peered my head around the curtain and there she was, sitting up in the bed stuck for words, ‘What are you doing here?’ with tears going down her cheek. ‘I’m home,’ I said. Leaning over for a hug, both of us in tears, laughing, she was delighted to see me, as much as I was delighted to see her.

Mam had a scan done on March 7 to see if anything else would show up. I went down to get coffees with Mam’s friend and sneak out for a bit of air. When we returned the curtain was brought around my Mam’s bed, a nurse came out and asked us both ‘to go off for a bit and return’.

Worried, we went back outside wondering what was going on. My sister phoned me asking where I was, she received a phone call off Mam asking her to come up. We met my sister at the front door running back up to my Mam to be stopped by the voice of my step-dad, he was sitting outside the ward with tears running down his face. We asked what the story was and he said ‘The cancer is back’.

I started questioning myself ‘did I hear that right?’, ‘no, it can’t be, sure she got the all clear in January’. We were all so shocked and devasted. ‘This couldn’t be happening again, not to my Mam, no, something is wrong here’.

The doctor came out to talk me before I went in to see Mam. He explained that ‘they had found a number of tumours around her hip, spine and urine tract plus two modules on the lung but that it was stage two cancer’. I was shocked, all I could say to him was ‘How? How did this happen? she only got the all clear in January.”

I went in to see my Mam, hugging her tight, we both cried into each other’s arms. I could see she was shocked and afraid, it was the last thing she was expecting, what any of us were expecting to hear. We all sat down beside her trying to grasp what we were all told. My Mam turned around and said ‘I’m going to fight this, just like the last time’, we nodded our heads in agreement with her and that we were all going to be there by her side for as long as this takes.

My Mam spent the next 12 weeks in Tallaght Hospital going back and forward with doctors for tests to investigate the cancer.

During the 12 weeks, a lot had happened. The doctors found more tumours, the cancer went from stage two to stage four. My Mam developed a blood clot in her leg and she had a fractured hip due to the bones being weakened by the cancer in her hip. Her leg had swelled and she got cellulitis of the leg too.

It was just bad news after bad news constantly for 12 weeks.

She decided to have chemotherapy, and prepared for the fact that she would lose her hair.

She was a very independent woman, and she just felt she was losing her independence bit by bit and being in the hospital didn’t help her as she couldn’t do much herself.

She was very upset at the fact she was going to lose her hair. After the first time, she had cancer she spent years growing her hair out and thickening it up and she was proud she got it to where she wanted it.

My Mam did joke saying ‘You’re going to have a bald Mammy’ and I said ‘So? Who cares you’re still going to be our beautiful mammy and besides we can go wig shopping if that’s what you want?’. ‘I could get a new style’ she said.

After 12 weeks in Tallaght Hospital and my Mam’s first round of chemotherapy, the Palliative Care Team suggested to my Mam she goes to Our Ladies Hospice Harolds Cross for Rehabilitation as the swelling on her leg was not going down.

The day she went down to the hospice, she was like a new woman, she was a lot happier and brighter, back to her old self. As a family we were over the moon, she had her own room, a beautiful garden she could wake up to every day and had her independence back to go around the grounds whenever she wanted.

I was so happy to have my old Mam back to herself, within reason. The environment in the hospice is completely different to that of a hospital. The staff are angels and it’s just a stress-free environment.

Unfortunately, that was short lived. After two weeks in the hospice, my Mam had to return to Tallaght Hospital as she developed an infection. My Mam spent three weeks in the hospital. Upset, frustrated and annoyed about her leg and the fact she had an infection that was stopping her from getting the rest of her chemotherapy treatment, the hospital did a scan to see if they could do something with her leg. Nothing prepared us for what was coming next.

On Wednesday 21st June 2017, my Mam rang my stepdad, sister and myself to come up. I could tell by her voice she was hiding her emotions, something was wrong. We drove to the hospital. We walked into her room gave her a hug and sat down. My Mam was tearing up, ‘The results from the scan came back, the chemo is not working, the cancer has spread, there’s nothing else they can do’.

Never in a million years do you think it would ever happen to someone you love so much. The sun was shining that day, it was a proper summer’s day, but our lives darkened that bit more with the news my Mam just told us. We were devastated, how could this be happening to my Mam, our family, it’s not fair.

My Mam returned to the Hospice the next day. She remained positive as she was brought into her new room which had a door to walk out into the garden which she was delighted about.

We didn’t know how long my Mam had left. Every day was precious, and we spent it down in the Hospice by her side. My Mam remained so positive down in the hospice with good days and bad, she was strong, and she kept smiling.

She got an electric wheelchair off the occupational therapist, and of course, it had an L plate on it. We laughed, my Mam was delighted as it meant she could drive around the Hospice herself. She used to speed off in front of us telling us ‘To keep up’ smiling to herself like a child up to mischief.

My Mam loved the garden outside her room, she loved the flowers, the sound of the chimes moving with the breeze and she fell in love with the water fountain, listening to the water trickling down and the sun on her face eating a Twister ice pop. We could imagine ourselves abroad as it was so peaceful we could’ve being anywhere in the world relaxing and chatting away - all we were missing was the vodka and coke.

Over the next couple weeks, my Mam was making plans, she wanted to make sure everything was right and in order, before she passed. I don’t know where she found the strength, but, she was determined. She went on a day out to Dun Laoghaire with her husband. Dun Laoghaire was one of her favourite places. She went out to the pier, got a Teddy’s ice cream then travelled to Bray.

She came home a few times to see the house and the dog. My Mam also wanted to have one last shopping trip with her bestie of over 30 years. My sister and I joined them in Liffey Valley. It was a memorable day, my Mam was so happy driving herself around shopping, till we dropped, carrying her bags, she drove over her friend’s foot twice, took out half the rails in Wallis because there was not enough space for the wheelchair.

By the end of the day the wheelchair was returned with the paintwork scratched, dints in the rear, a tail light missing and one very happy customer. It was a day where just for once, in the last six months, I think we forgot everything that was happening.  We laughed, we shopped and just enjoyed the day, all of us together.

Six weeks had passed in the hospice and my Mam was getting tired, she was sleeping more and trying to still do things she wanted to do. Some days she was sick other days she was bedridden.

We knew the changes were happening. She knew herself she didn’t have long left. One day when my sister and I were down with her, my Mam asked my sister to go to the shop for her and she did.

While my sister was in the shop my Mam started talking to me, we both started to tear up as she was saying her goodbyes, just in case she didn’t get a chance to. I held her hand tight and hugged her, I didn’t want to let her go.

Two weeks later on 2nd September 2017 at 4.30am we got the call to come down to the Hospice. The drive down felt like forever. We finally arrived. I just froze at my Mam’s door, seeing her in the bed, my heart was broken. She was going through her final stages of life.

Only the day before, I was down with her and she was in good spirits, she slept for most of the time I was there but woke up before I left. I was chatting away and said I was going, she said ‘Okay pet, I’ll see you tomorrow, I love you’ ‘I love you too’ I said, she smiled and I hugged her twice and looked back as I was walking out the door and she smiled again waving goodbye, ‘Love you’ Love you to Mam’.

Surrounded by her family and nurses in Harold’s Cross Hospice, we said our last goodbye a few hours later as she slipped away into the sunrise. Life became very real at that moment but it still felt like I was dreaming.

I learned so much more about my Mam during her time in the hospital and hospice from friends and family of stories from back in the day. You realise just how precious life is and how everything can change in the blink of an eye.

My Mam was the strongest, bravest woman I know. For everything that was thrown at her over the six month period, she took it on, she surprised doctors with her life expectancy, she was loved by everyone that knew her and everyone that just met her during the last two months of her life.

She was always worried about her family on how we were going to cope after she passed. She made life very easy for us as she planned her own funeral, getting everything she wanted down in writing and giving us orders. She did everything her way, putting her mark on everything so that all we had to do as a family was to make a phone call.

Losing my Mam is the hardest thing I have and will ever go through. It feels like you have joined this club that nobody wants to be a part of but it’s only the people in that club that understand exactly what you are going through.

My Mam was only 58 years old. I never thought I would lose her at the age of 23. I thought she would be there to guide me through adulthood, help me look for my first home, possibly meet my future husband and children.

But unfortunately, life had other plans.

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