Real Life Special: A Mother Remembered

This season’s Real Life Special explores three very different experiences. These personal stories recognise strength and courage within the family unit.

ife! No two are ever the same, each unique and diverse, and similar can be said for families. Through life, we endure moments of sheer happiness followed by times of sadness. And a lifetime is never plain sailing, but for our three families in this issue, they’ve had the courage to share their difficult times with us. Every family demonstrated pure strength and determination through life’s struggles, and for this we pay tribute.

Each story exposes different battles that the families have suffered. Respectively three incredible journeys, but unfortunately life isn’t always a fairy-tale and happy endings are not guaranteed. The strong nature of the individual and the exploration of their experience have enabled them to reminisce and retell their stories, and it is hugely encouraging to see families’ core strength at the forefront of each memory.

We hope you enjoy reading about this season’s families, and we’d like to thank each family for sharing their personal experiences.

other of three, Kelly Pinhorne, was given the devastating news that she might have cancer when her youngest child, Savannah, was just six months old. “Kelly was caring, gentle, and devoted herself to her children,” says Kelly’s aunt, Joanne Bradwell.

Kelly first visited her GP in March 2008. A tumour was discovered, and six days later it was confirmed that she had cervical cancer. She was just 29. “Kelly was so special in so many ways,” explains Joanne. “She was my eldest niece. I was only five when she was born, and I was the proudest five year old auntie ever! We were more like cousins, I suppose. She was a best friend to her mum, too – they had an amazing relationship. Kelly was beautiful, inside and out.”

Shortly after her diagnosis, Kelly was given radiotherapy treatment, but unfortunately it had no effect on the tumour, so she was then given chemotherapy. In November 2008 Kelly underwent a five and a half hour operation to remove the tumour, and also her bladder. It seemed as though the operation had been a success – afterwards Kelly had regular checkups, and for over a year she remained free of cancer. “We couldn’t have been happier,” says Joanne, “we were so thankful to have her well.”

However, the reprieve wasn’t to last for long. In April 2010, Kelly’s latest scan revealed that a second tumour had appeared. On 26 May, Kelly was taken into the Royal Marsden, where she had a fifteen hour operation to remove this second tumour, and also her bowel. “The surgeon was amazed at Kelly’s strength and wit,” says Joanne, “she was always making the nurses laugh!” Kelly returned home on 5 June. “She’d missed her children so terribly,” says Joanne.

Unfortunately, December 2010 brought yet more bad news for Kelly and her family. Another tumour had appeared, and this time it was growing very quickly, and was impossible to remove. “It was just before Christmas when she found out,” remembers Joanne. “I’d invited Kelly and her family round on Boxing Day, and I never saw her looking more beautiful. Even after hearing the worst news ever, she still laughed and joined in, while we all put on brave faces for her. She refused to let the news ruin her Christmas with her children, and said that she would fight the illness with every inch of her being.”

On 25 March 2011, Kelly was taken into hospital, in acute pain. Kelly’s family kept a constant vigil by her bedside. “I visited many times,” says Joanne, “it was devastating to see her in horrendous pain, and we, who loved her so much, not being able to do anything. She’d had three lots of chemo, and she’d lost all of her beautiful long blonde hair.”

Joanne was due to go to Mauritius at this time, to marry her partner of fifteen years. “I don’t know how I boarded the plane – the thought of leaving everyone behind, and not being there for Kelly, broke my heart. I was hoping and willing for a miracle.”

Sadly, when Joanne got back, Kelly’s condition had deteriorated further. “Things were worse than I could ever have imagined,” says Joanne, “I held her hand and stroked her beautiful face, wishing I could take her pain away. She said, ‘I’m so sorry for putting you all through this, I’m so sorry I can’t fight the pain any more – please end it, and please tell my kids that I love them.”

Kelly died on 1 June 2011, three years after the first tumour had appeared. “She suffered the most horrific pain during those last eleven weeks,” says Joanne, “but when the end came, our hearts were still crushed into a million pieces.”

Ever mindful of everyone else’s happiness, Kelly had arranged for her three children to collect their new puppy on the day that she died. “We’re sure that she waited until that day so the children would be happy, because they were bringing their puppy home,” says Joanne.

At her funeral Kelly was driven in a glass carriage, pulled by white horses. “It was beautiful,” says Joanne. “We did all the flowers ourselves, and played her favourite songs.” Kelly’s ashes are buried under a tree at Staunton Country Park, where she loved to take her children. A few steps away is another tree, in memory of Kelly’s best friend Vicky, who lost her own battle with cancer a few years before Kelly was diagnosed. “Kelly nursed Vicky until the end,” says Joanne. “Two best friends, together from birth until today. Both leaving their children behind.”

“We’re all devastated by our loss – the hole in our hearts will never be filled. Kelly isn’t just my hero, she’s the whole family’s hero.”