Anniversaries focus the mind. Bring back memories. A talk radio discussion this morning reminded me how angry I was in the month before Mom died. How determined we were that Mom would not die in hospital.

Mom was admitted for treatment of fluid on her lungs. A side effect of the tumours and the chemotherapy, she was struggling for breath, but still very much alive. A simple chest drain would make her more comfortable and she could come home to be cared for by us.

The first drain wasn’t monitored correctly and stopped draining before the fluid was cleared. But the ward was busy, so she was sent home to wait and see. With only weeks to live, it was most unsatisfactory.

A week later, her breathing deteriorated during radiotherapy to her spine. Terrified, Mom was admitted again. She was terrified of dying alone, in hospital.

Days later, no chest drain, my mother lying in a hospital bed on oxygen, unable to talk, read, sleep, eat. It was awful. The nurses cast barely a glance in her direction. She wasn’t helped to eat or drink. I complained daily to the nursing staff. The only doctor on the ward was a junior oncologist, with no respiratory experience. Then I made a complaint to the patient liaison service at the hospital. I wrote a strongly worded email to say that my Mother was not yet dead and deserved the dignity of having her respiratory condition alleviated to ease her pain and discomfort. And allow her to come home.

An hour later, she texted me to say that ‘the great and the good’ were at her bedside. The consultant respiratory physician and consultant oncologist had found the time to meet my Mother, together, and plan her treatment. Hooray! She was home the next day. And she died peacefully at home 6 weeks later. Mom was just 66 years old.

Living with Mom’s cancer




I am a scientist and a blogger. I have a PhD in the genetics of cardiovascular risk. My Mom died of cancer last year. We learnt a lot and met some amazing people. I want to share with others how to live positively with cancer, and make choices in end-of-life care. My top tip: Ask the difficult questions.

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