‘It’s hard to know you can’t handle your kids’
Cancer patient fears for children’s future when she is no longer around
Nancy* rarely leaves home because of her health, but when she does she locks the door to her bedroom where she stores her medication.
The 34-year-old is worried that her children, who are seeing her slowly wither away from cancer, might be overcome by sadness and decide to put an end to it all.
But she does not say these things aloud at home. Instead, she tries hard to put on her “happy face” and be positive for her three children.
Walking into her home, furnished almost entirely with donations obtained through the Millennium Chapel, one would not think the family is battling poverty and ill health.
Christmas decorations are strewn around the small living room as Nancy works on livening up the atmosphere for the festive season.
“It’s hard to be a mum and know you can’t handle your kids,” she says in a tone that is almost apologetic.
Nancy’s suffering is made worse as her own mother could not look after her.
When she was 10, her parents were involved in a traffic accident and her mother suffered permanent brain damage and lost her ability to walk. Since then she has had the intellect of a seven-year-old.
“When you live in a family where someone is sick, you don’t want to be sick yourself,” Nancy pauses as she thinks about her childhood.
“Today my children are feeling it… I’ve been sick for almost 13 years,” her voice trembles.
In 2000, when her eldest daughter was just a toddler, she started forgetting a lot of things.
“Then one day I went shopping with my daughter who was still in the pushchair. When I walked out of the shop, the owner ran after me and told me I had left my daughter behind. I was shocked. There was a problem,” she recalls.
Nancy started a string of medical tests that eventually showed she had a brain tumour that was three-by-three centimetres large.
The tumour was removed surgically. After that she started suffering epileptic fits but was clear from the cancer.
The stress of the illness led to a separation from her husband. But she moved on with her life, started a new relationship and had another baby.
In 2009 another tumour was found and she started radiotherapy, which seemed to work. She got pregnant again, but her seizures increased, leading to an early birth.
It was soon clear the fits were due to another tumour on her pituitary gland that controls hormone function.
She is currently on steroids to control the growth. Doctors have told her if the tumour gets bigger she may have to be operated on again, but this time the risks would be higher.
The heartbreak does not stop there. Nancy’s ex-husband recently tested positive for a chronic, degenerative disease and her eldest daughter has a 70 per cent chance of inheriting it.
Her middle child suffers from anxiety and a school report recently showed she was afraid of losing her mother. The youngest child, still a toddler, is not developing well.
With all this to cope with, Nancy, her partner and the children recently moved into an apartment that is close to her parents’ house.
Nancy’s father, whom she describes as her “rock”, is helping raise the children while her partner goes to work – most of his earnings going to pay rent and bills.
She cannot work as she gets exhausted and could have a fit at any time.
“I can’t just be sick. I have to keep in mind what happens after I die. My children are my life and I’m thinking about them.
“When I’m no longer around I want them to live with my father but his house needs lots of work to be safe for children,” she says.
A short trip to her father’s house illustrates what she means. Her mother makes her way around the small, dark, government apartment by pushing herself on a desk chair with wheels and pulling herself along the narrow corridors. A cracked picture frame in the hall contains a happy family photo – before the traffic accident.
The bathroom ceiling is extensively and dangerously damaged. The room that will one day be the children’s room needs work. It is small and only bunk beds will fit there.
“If I die and they are separated, not only will they lose me but everything they know – their grandparents with whom they spend so much time, their school, and each other,” she says.
Anyone who wishes to help Nancy by donating bunk beds and helping make her parents’ house safer, or fixing a dangerous balcony at her apartment, can contact Fr Saviour Grima who heads the Millennium Chapel in Paceville on 7961 7366 or contact the chapel on 2135 4464 or 2138 1172 or send an e-mail to [email protected].
* Name and details have been changed to protect the children’s identity.