Mum, 37, compiles ‘living list’ with family after incurable cancer diagnosis
A mother-of-two who was told her cancer was incurable is making a ‘living list’ with her family to create as many happy memories in the time she has left. Sara McKenzie thought she had won her battle with cancer after that joyful moment when she rang her treatment bell at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
The primary school teacher was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 33 after giving birth to her youngest child, Willow, but, after nine months of surgery and grueling treatment, she was given the green light . The family, which also includes husband Ross and eldest son Noah, then decided to move from Newcastle to their dream ‘forever home’ in Belfast.
It’s a move that brings Sara closer to her family again and life seems perfect. But this month of March, the world of the family has been turned upside down for the second time.
Now 37, Sara experienced pain in her back and later tests confirmed stage four breast cancer had spread to her bones and caused spinal fractures. The doctors told him that the disease could only be taken care of from then on and that it was now incurable.
Recalling the chain of events that led up to this moment, Sara told the Newcastle Chronicle: “In early December I started to experience back pain but it was just a small pain that I could handle with paracetamol. But it didn’t work. going away for about two weeks and then one morning it was suddenly so bad that I couldn’t move.
“I couldn’t get out of bed. I had an MRI on January 4 and it showed several tumors, one in particular which had caused a huge spinal fracture.
“For me it was a huge, huge shock. I’m a positive person, one of those people who get up and go, and I had that doctor’s appointment before Christmas and we spent a week in Newcastle for New Years. At that time, I knew I had the MRI coming, but not once during that time did I expect the news I was going to receive.
“I really thought it was a bit of muscle soreness, because I was exercising, I was running, if you looked at me, I was the picture of health. I was working full time, I had regular checks showing all-clear.
“It was really a huge shock. Hearing the words ‘it’s not curable’ is the really hard part.”
Breaking the news to Noah and Willow, who were now seven and five years old, wasn’t easy either. Both were of an age that would mean they were more aware of their mother’s illness than they had been before.
“The advice we got was if they ask me if I’m going to die we say, ‘That’s not the plan right now, the plan is for the doctors to give mum medicine to immobilize the cancer for as long as possible,” Sara says. “One night Noah got upset on his way to bed and he asked me ‘Mom, what happens when you die, you have a second life ?’ – he must have thought of a video game where you can walk away.
“I had to say no unfortunately, and he hugged me and said ‘Mom, I never want to leave you’. That conversation was extremely difficult, but I kept it to be strong for him, and we started writing down all the things we wanted to do together as a family while we were here.
“The first thing he said was ‘I want to go to Florida’ – so aim high! So that’s where the living list came from, and now when things happen, we write them down.
“I’m focused on making the most of my time with my family and the list really helps me. It makes me determined to do as much as possible, to create as many happy memories as possible.
“Obviously there are big things out there that cost money, but it’s also little things that I would probably take for granted before, like going to kids’ sports day. Those memories mean so much to me now.”
Along with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, a family getaway in a motorhome and a hike just for Sara and Ross tops the list, with friends helping to raise thousands of pounds to make the most of it. A dream treehouse has already been built with the funds as a gift for Willow’s fifth birthday.
“The support has been really overwhelming, but in such a nice way,” Sara added. “I was blown away by it, from Newcastle, from Belfast, it’s just amazing. It’s so heartwarming to have so many people around us giving us this love and support and honestly I couldn’t do this without our friends and family.”
Sara’s friends are fundraising for her at https://www.gofundme.com/f/sara-mckenzie
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