I lost my Mum Shirley Havens last year 11th August 2013 to lung cancer after just being diagnosed 3 weeks earlier on 22nd July.
My mum was very energetic, bubbly and an outgoing person. She had smoked since she was a very young girl but back in her day it was the thing to do as they say. Shirley was a mother of 5 children, a wife to my dad over 32 years and, at the time, a grandmother to my child who was 3 years old. After her passing, her second grandchild was born 22nd August 2013. She loved looking after my son every weekend and couldn’t keep away from him whenever he was free for her company.
The story gets complicated as there were so many misdiagnoses. Shirley had severe bunions on both of her feet and she finally got the go ahead to go into surgery to have her feet broken and re-arranged. Because she needed both feet done they decided to have one foot at a time broken. The first operation was successful and she was only off work a short time and successfully got back on her feet a few short weeks after. Unfortunately she than got made redundant at work so was unemployed shortly after. Shirley then received a letter informing her of her second operation to break the other foot. Again, as far as we knew the surgery went to plan.
In the months of May/June 2013, my mum started to get really sore back pain and her feet were really sore and swollen at times. After going to the doctors, they assumed that her foot had become infected. As they do, they prescribed antibiotics and pain killers and hoped it would clear up. At the end of June and beginning of July her back became severely sore and tense to the point where it stopped her doing her daily routine, playing with her grandchild and looking for work. She became almost depressed with the pain as she wasn’t a lady to sit down all day. Shirley then visited the doctors again regarding her back and her inability to walk and also told the doctor she was using the crutch the hospital had given her for her foot as support as the pain was unbearable. The doctor again refused to look at any other cause for her pain and put it down to her foot and informed her to get on with her normal days.
The pain became so intense she admitted herself to A&E as she had already gone through one successful operation and knew it wasn’t down to her foot - there was much more to it.
They looked at mum in A&E and gave her some painkillers but couldn’t find the source of the pain and said they would inform her doctors that it would be best to send my mum off to an MRI and see if there was any damage to the back. My mum came home being informed it may be something as small as a slipped disc. She then got a letter confirming an MRI scan for the end of August.
Her oldest son’s birthday was 17th July and we arranged a birthday meal. The pain was so bad she was unable to make it and had to stay home in bed. That weekend she again submitted herself to A&E as the pain was too much and she couldn’t wait for the MRI scan at the end of the month. This time round they wanted to look at her there and then and did x-rays and awaited the MRI scan.
That weekend of the 22nd July after an overnight stay, an x-ray found cloudy areas in her chest which indicated the cancer. She was with my brothers and sister at the time. I remember getting the phone call to get to the hospital as soon as possible as I had taken my son out for the day as it was summer and we went to enjoy the fountains at our local park. After dropping my son off at a family member’s house, I rushed to the hospital. She than told me the dreaded news that she had lung cancer.
Shirley had to stay in hospital for staff to do further biopsies to see what stage the cancer was at. We then got told it was at the severe stage of level 3. With the look on the doctors’ faces and research we had done ourselves we knew it wouldn’t be long before the cancer would spread to the brain and she would lose her life.
Yes, my mum was scared, we all were, but that didn’t get her down. She was still laughing and joking around. She was moved to a ward with other patients and regularly made trips to another hospital for radiotherapy as they advised it could make the back pain easier. My older brother would do the morning shifts bringing not just my mum fresh hot toast but the whole ward, as told to by my mum. After a few days she then got her own room and the family was in there from 8am until 12am. I took my son to see her a few times and the joy it brought her made the journey worthwhile.
We then got the news on the Thursday that she could go home now until the next course of treatments as she had just had her biopsy done and we were waiting for the results to come back.
We had people round to make sure the house was easy for her to access. We had a company deliver her new bed for her to have in the living room.
At first she was scared to go home as you do have to leave the comfort and security of the nurses. We had our usual visit from the palliative care team who were lovely and then they ordered my mum a chair which she and my son loved. Even though she was in pain she didn’t let anything get to her and carried on smiling.
As mentioned before, my older brother and his partner were expecting their first child, so we organised a baby shower at the house so my mum could be there and we had the whole family round. It was a day to remember.
Her birthday than followed on the 6th August and all the kids got together and enjoyed a takeaway of her choice. It was so nice to enjoy her birthday even though she was restricted to the bed.
A few days later, she had trouble breathing and felt bloated. She was in a lot of pain so we called the out of hours doctors who made their visit and increased the dosage of the pain killers. She fell asleep that night but was still in pain and was uncomfortable so was bed bound. We then decided to get a carer for the morning as some of us had to go back to work so she had help getting to and from the bathroom for her daily wash. At this point, her back became so painful she had to use a zimmer frame to get about. That evening again she was uncomfortable and asked again for the doctors to be called out. Again they just increased her painkiller dosage.
It was that Sunday when we were all round her house just relaxing when she became short of breath and in pain. She didn’t like taking the maximum amount of her morphine as it made her drowsy but she started to drop off and her breathing was starting to get heavy so I rang the out of hours doctors straight away. Then I noticed her eyes had become really yellow, more than usual, as we were expecting them to go yellow eventually. They told us to give her the maximum dosage which we did. Within 5 minutes we had to call 999 and get paramedics to her. They came and got no response from my mum as it was almost like she was in a daze. They took her from home and went to the hospital.
She lost her life 11th August after being diagnosed just three weeks before. Yes she had a cough but had done throughout her adult life. Should the doctors have done more to find out the cause of the pain instead of blaming it on her foot?
Since then, I sent up a tribute page in memory of my mum and have raised over £1000 from family and friends and fundraising activities and I will continue to support Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.