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What cancer takes. What cancer leaves

Posted by
07 Feb 2019

Four years after her mum’s death from leukaemia, Jo’s taking on London Landmarks Half Marathon in her memory.

A woman and a toddler in a paddling pool
Jo's mum and Jo's son pictured in a paddling pool

What cancer takes

Cancer has taken a cherished wife, mother, sister, aunt and friend. It took the person around whom our worlds turned.

Cancer has taken my son's grandmother, and her long-held dream of watching a grandchild grow up.

Cancer has taken away milestones. She missed my son’s first day at school, the nativity play, the first lost tooth. New school years with outsized uniform and shiny shoes. Haircuts and holidays.

Jo’s mum pictured in the garden

Mum's treatment

My mum was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia on a blisteringly hot day at the beginning of August 2013.

Within days of her leukaemia diagnosis, she was in a hospital bed with chemotherapy dripping into her system. She stayed in that bed for the next five weeks as her immune system crashed and burned.

She returned home small and frail. We celebrated Christmas. Mum's hair grew back. She wasn't able to resume any childcare, but she visited to play with her grandson, and they rebuilt a strong bond.

What cancer leaves

Cancer left behind my dad. He lived on for three years more, grieving and shocked. He'd been diagnosed with a chronic lung condition we knew would shorten his life. That his partner would be the first to die was an unexpected  turn of events.

He died in June 2018. He spent the last few weeks of his life in the same hospice my mum died in (we celebrated his 80th birthday on the very same ward).

Cancer left behind a family, cut adrift by circumstances. My mum promised to be there to help me with my child. She did, while she could, but she died before the job of raising him was done.

Cancer left me angry for a while; angry with my mum for leaving us. Angry with my dad for his grief and inability to take her place. Angry with family and friends, for grieving when I felt they had lost less than I had. "Your grief is not like my grief" was the constant and irrational refrain in my head. I was angry with people who hadn't lost their mother, and either didn't seem to appreciate what they had, or appreciated it too visibly. Mother's Day was no longer a pleasant occasion, despite having a child of my own to celebrate it with.

A sea of emotions

Cancer leaves you with respect and love for those that have battled it. Some 'win', others 'lose', and to their loved ones left behind, I can only express solidarity. Most of us will be touched by cancer somehow, either directly or through the experiences of a friend or family member. In my small circle, there have been other tragedies, which are in no way diminished by my small story here.

Finally, cancer leaves you with a sense of amazement for the people who diagnose, treat and care for those living with it. for its sufferers. The NHS is a marvelous institution, and we should cherish what it stands for. This isn't the place for politics, but if you value the institution and the people who work for it, please be mindful that it’s not in great shape right now. We need to protect it.

Mum would have turned 80 in January. It's the fourth birthday she’s missed.

Running to beat blood cancer

On 24 March, I’m running London Landmarks Half Marathon to raise money for Bloodwise. If you appreciate my story and would like to sponsor me to help others with blood cancer, please donate to my JustGiving page.


If you've been affected by Jo's story and would like to speak to us about blood cancer, our Support Line is open from Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm.

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