Writing by Maureen Walsh, BBC Radio Merseyside
I love saying this - I am a cancer survivor. I may not have been. The date for my mammogram came at a very busy time in my life, not only was I President of Soroptimist International of Liverpool, a women's organisation, I was sole carer for my 98 year old mother. I felt tired and 'frazzled'. I had to arrange a care home for a few weeks so that I could attend a Soroptimist Conference in Barbados. The thought had gone through my mind, why bother with a mammogram this time, after all I've been OK up to now and I could not feel any lumps? How glad am I that I did the sensible thing. Off I went to my women's conference, my head full of other women's problems; like the women in Darfur and India who could not feed their children; also the women in a Malawi jail who needed money to buy raw materials to make items to sell, otherwise they and their babies would starve. Back I came to see my husband and have a real cup of tea. There was the letter waiting for me, inviting me to return for another mammogram. "Oh", I said to Bob, "I must have moved" as though it were a photograph. Ladies we know when you're in the grip of that machine there's no way you can move. My husband was with me when I received the news. I had lulled Bob into a false sense of security by being so positive. I had said "It won't happen to me Bob. I'm as fit as a butcher's dog" This Butcher's dog was no longer wagging her tail. This was really happening and everything moved quickly. My son and step-children had to be told. A mother's love is one that nurtures and protects. This time I could not protect my family from bad news. I had to be brave and yes, I did cry when everyone else was asleep. I also prayed harder too. I had long conversations with God. I needed phenomenal strength of mind and body. My son wrote to me that night. He sent an email which said…. "Mum, I just want to say that I have absolutely no doubt at all that you will have no problem whatsoever getting over the dreadful news we all received today. You are the most powerfully positive spirit I know and, with the support you will have around you the next few months will be a breeze. You know we all love you so much and would do anything for you no matter what it is, you just have to ask. Stay amazing Mum and I look forward to giving you a big hug on Saturday" I have a great belief that in caring for and loving each other we are following God's great plan. Next stop was my family GP to ask if I should tell my mum or not; also the fact that she would have to stay in the nursing home a while longer. Of course I had to tell my mother. She would wonder why she wasn't going home straight away. I also had to give my mum the news that my brother, living in Derbyshire, was in hospital for a life-saving operation, having a stent put into his aorta. A lot of information for an elderly lady of almost 99 to absorb! An intelligent woman with a sharp mind suddenly was quiet and thoughtful. The date was soon upon me to pack my bag and go to the Linda McCartney Unit. I visited Mum to let her know my brother was doing well and to remind her that I would have my operation in two days-time. That was at half past four in the afternoon. By half past six my mum had given up on life dying quite unexpectedly two days before the biggest operation of my life. I had no time to think about hospital then - I had a funeral to organise Truly I believe that God gives you the strength when you need it most In the Linda McCartney Unit I met nothing but kindness and consideration. I had stayed in hotels which were not as good. Be assured when in the Linda McCartney Unit you are special. I am not a secretive person; I am quite outgoing so reaching for the telephone book I called all my girlfriends, then I had to tell my boss. Discussing the situation with Mick Ord I thought the sensible thing to do was let my listeners know what had happened to me and then I could ask them to keep their mammogram appointments. After all I had no lump but that dreaded Carcinoma was certainly there. I wanted husbands, boyfriends, partners and family to encourage women to keep those important appointments. The response from BBC Radio Merseyside listeners was astounding; from husbands who had stories both good and bad about their wives battles with cancer and letters from women who thought they would be fine with no need of a mammogram as they regularly checked themselves. I made an offer to go with anyone who was scared. "Just call me", I said. After the funeral and my brother's recovery, mine too, it was time for radiotherapy. Five weeks of back and forth to Clatterbridge Hospital. So far the care I had received was priceless. Come August I was recovering nicely and so had my brother, when he decided to clean his caravan and go off on a holiday. It was then that disaster struck once more. My only sibling, my brother, died unexpectedly. He suffered a fall from the third rung of a ladder. His head hit the concrete drive and he died within the hour. How I functioned at this time I do not know. My spirits were low. That positive woman my family knew had gone away somewhere. I had my mother's affairs to settle and empty her home. All those things you can do when life is ticking along. Then my lovely cousin died unexpectedly. So much heartache. That is when my Macmillan nurse ,Trish called to ask how I was getting on. It all came tumbling out. She offered a service I did not know I needed, much less one which Macmillan provides. Trish referred me to a Macmillan counsellor. You try not to burden your family so I had kept all my feelings and thoughts locked up inside my head. You could say I unburdened myself in those therapy sessions. As you can see all is well with me now. I learned to laugh out loud again. I count my blessings every day. My message to all women is to please keep your mammogram appointment and to men, you can have lumps too. Please check yourselves. Most cancers caught early enough are curable. There are new treatments coming along all the time, which underlines the importance of fund raising. May I leave you with this thought? Instead of living in the shadow of yesterday, walk in the light of today and the hope of tomorrow.
Maureen Walsh, BBC Radio Merseyside