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Laura, 33, is a Learning and Development Specialist living in Northampton. In 2009, Laura lost her mum to breast cancer. Seven years on, she started blogging about her experience, with unexpected results.
My mum, Yvette, was only 56 when she passed away from breast cancer. It got her the third time round after she had endured years of operations, tests and treatment. To say she was a positive person is probably an understatement. She was ill for what felt like a very long time and she worked for as much of it as she could. She kept a smile on her face and wasn't going to be beaten without a damn good fight. She was always grateful for her life, even when she was ill. She was the type of person who was keen to help others, which she did, more than she could ever know.
I'd say the first 18 months after her death were the hardest. Before her death, people would ask, "How's your mum doing?", and I'd explain what the treatment was, what the consultant had said, what the symptoms were etc. I got the opportunity to talk about it a lot. Once the funeral was done, people stopped asking how I was. Not because they didn't care but because, well, what is there to say?
Last year my friend's lovely mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. My initial reaction was of anger. How could this disease target another amazing person? How dare it! I knew I needed to do something to channel the anger and feeling of helplessness and take back control. I had done the Race for Life a couple of years after mum died and I felt good about raising money for Cancer Research UK. I needed to do something bigger this time and so it came to me...Macmillan's Brave the Shave. Just before I did the shave, I started blogging. I'm not really sure why, I just wanted to do something positive and I thought a blog might be a good place to start. I wanted to spread positive messages, like mum did. Maybe if she was alive she might even have been a blogger herself! So I wrote about the shave and other topics that came to me, one of the posts being about her and her death.
I had never spoken to anyone about how I was or what had happened. Writing down what I experienced at that time was hugely therapeutic. Posting it online for the world to see was even more therapeutic. Knowing that someone in Brazil read about my mum and what we went through gave me a sense of calm. It helped me to organise my thoughts and feelings about that period and once it was posted it was like letting it go. Much like throwing a message in a bottle into the sea, not knowing where it will end up or who might find it. I saw a friend recently who said she'd learnt more about me through my blogs than in the 15 years she's known me. She's probably right. I've learnt a lot about myself too. I think with writing you can be more honest with yourself because you're not talking to someone directly, so there's no fear of judgement.
I really wish I had started writing years ago. Even just in journal form, maybe as a letter to my mum, anything just to get the grief out. I didn't have the strength or the words to talk about it face to face at the time and I really believe, on reflection, not talking about it made it a lot worse. I wanted people to mention my mum, to remind me about good times or if they didn't know her, to ask me about what she was like. When someone dies, you don't just have the physical loss of the person not being there but you have the loss of any mention of them. They become a taboo subject for a long enough period that people deem it 'safe' to talk about them again. I guess I was also scared to mention her for fear of upsetting others or making them feel awkward.
When anything bad happened, my mum would tell me, "It's character building". She would say it almost like it was a blessing to go through an awful time because in the end it would make you a better person, like the lesson was worth its weight in gold. I would roll my eyes at her and not really understand what she meant. I understand now. For example, the blog led me to find other likeminded people online, two of which were Lorraine and Lee. They set up The Lewis Foundation which provides free gift packs to cancer patients at Northampton General Hospital. They are also fundraising to provide free WiFi for patients and their families. I now volunteer weekly for the charity, hand out packs and hopefully spread a bit of happiness and help people, like mum did. I also managed to raise £1700 for Macmillan by shaving my hair, money that will help Macmillan support other families facing cancer. I wouldn't have done any of this if it wasn't for the difficult time I went through dealing with the grief of losing my mum. My blog, It's Character Building, serves as a tribute to the amazing woman my mum was and the process of writing has definitely made me a better person, hopefully helping others in some small way.
I changed the day my mum died; that Laura died with her. Finally, years later, through writing and positive action, I've dealt with the grief and I feel better. She was right, it was character building. Thank-you mum.
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