My mum Emma had a variant of squamous cell carcinoma. She originally had maxilofacial surgery in the late 80’s and was in remission until 1998 when she had a stroke linked to a recurrence of tumours in her jaw and neck. She then underwent further surgery, but due to the previous loss of tissue and the proximity to the vertebrae, oesophagus and arteries this was ultimately unsuccessful. Despite her stroke, she was determined to maintain as much independence as she could and recovered much of her mobility and speech.
She was living on her own in the west coast of Scotland.
She had been in remission but it then came back in 2001 – it was a very aggressive cancer, and unfortunately it developed from manageable to becoming terminal.
She was living on her own, but she had lots of friends and relatives around and a good network of people around her.
She was a very determined and independent lady and her wish was to remain at home as long as possible.
At the time my brother was living in the north west of Scotland so he wasn’t that near either, but a lot closer then I was at the time.
When she came out of remission, my children were 8 and 6 and we spent 1 or 2 weekends a month (work depending) travelling up to see her and let the kids have time with her. She died when the children were 11 and 9.
My daughter is 26 now and my son is 24. My daughter does remember her granny, and was close to her, but I think for my son his memories are vaguer.
Marie Curie become involved once it was clear that it had become end of life care. Mum had a carer who came in regularly to help, and then Marie Curie came in to help her with her medication and pain management.
She did have a period of time in a hospice for respite, but she then came home as that’s where she wanted to be. That’s when Marie Curie engaged with her and they were very good, always cheerful. They were a great comfort. They helped mum spend her remaining days at home, which was a great comfort to her and solace to our family.
Being at home was very important for Mum and for her peace of mind.
My wife was there when Mum died. I was on the other side of the country and coming in the next day. She died on January 13th 2002, the day before my birthday. The Marie Curie nurse wasn’t with her when she died but had been there that morning to give her pain relief.
Mum didn’t work but she did a lot of voluntary work for charities. She was always up to something.
We were kind of a similar mind – we were both quite independent people, and also I suppose both liked helping other people.
I would say we were close – even though geographically we were quite far away, we still felt close. And we would visit with the kids whenever we could, not just Christmas and birthdays, we always did quite a lot of driving up there with the kids.
She was always interested in her grandchildren.
I wasn’t desperately unfit but Mum dying did make me think about my own health. It encouraged me to take a bit more responsibility for my own health and the impact it might have on my own young family. While I managed to quit smoking, I took up eating instead. The pounds piled on and I thought, this isn’t good and just wanted to do something about it.
So I hit the road.
At first, I did all my running at night so I couldn’t be seen. And then I started doing marathons and started collecting for charity. Since that time I have taken part in at least one sporting challenge a year.
As I work at sea, roadwork can be problematic – so the trusty turbo-trainer accounts for most of my miles.
I work for Border Force around the Greek Islands, we are basically border patrol group and search and rescue off the Greek Islands.
We have a regular patrol pattern and then rescues. We can get called out during rest periods, that’s just the way it is.
I started off as a customs officer and then moved to the ship based side. Normally, I’m based in the UK but we have loaned to the Greek authorities.
It can be very challenging to say the least, but it is also very rewarding.
Graeme was unable to see his family on Christmas Day, but he planned to Facetime them to speak to his wife and children. He also cycled up Mount Olympus on Christmas Day, dressed in a Santa suit in the hope that it would encourage others to donate too. Graeme did this ride successfully on Christmas Day, an impressive feat – well done Graeme!