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Trauma of watching mum die ...and how I coped
3:30pm Thursday 19th September 2013 in News
WHEN Alice Addison, 29, found out her mum Maisie had terminal cancer, she immediately deferred her degree in medicine in order to be with her in her last months of life.
Here, Alice talks about the impact of losing a parent and the book she wrote to help her through the subsequent depression.
Losing a parent is something most of us will have to go through in our life. Watching my mum pass away was the most traumatic thing I have ever experienced and I am still coming to terms with the aftermath, six years later.
I was very young, just 23, when my mum was diagnosed with cancer. What made it more difficult was how sudden it all was.
She was diagnosed in February 2007 and passed away in July 2007, aged 53. By the time she was diagnosed, it had spread to the liver and she was told it was terminal.
At the time I was in my fourth year studying medicine at university. I knew mum had been experiencing extreme tiredness and indigestion, but the GPs had not picked up on the reasons why.
They never diagnosed the primary cancer, but in my mind I believe it might have been pancreatic. The doctors said they couldn’t cure the cancer, but if she had chemotherapy it might give her a few more months. I shouldered a lot of the burden and threw myself into taking care of her.
Chemotherapy is ghastly for anyone to go through. It didn’t give her more time in the end, but you don’t have the hindsight.
We were extremely close and so it was very traumatic to see her go through chemotherapy and feeling so ill.
I deferred my degree, so I could move back home and spend all my time with her and my dad, and my brother came back to live at home as well. I couldn’t have imagined doing anything other than spending as much time with her as possible.
My mum, Maisie, was a secondary school English teacher. She was so outgoing and sociable and had a huge network of friends.
However, when she was very ill, she couldn’t deal with seeing people and so many of her friends and our wider network of family did not know about that time. I wanted to record details, so people would know how courageous she was.
The time we spent together was really special and I kept a diary of our days together so I wouldn’t forget anything.
The book is called Starfish. This was because I used to call her ‘my little star’ and one day I said it to her and she said ‘I’m not your star, I’m your starfish’.
She said it was because she was laid on the bed like a stranded starfish. I really struggled after she passed away, because I hadn’t even given a second thought to what would happen after she had passed away, because we had focused on taking care of her.
I fell into a state of depression and I just didn’t feel like carrying on. I took an overdose and tried to kill myself. I ended up in hospital and was admitted to a psychiatric ward.
I was released and readmitted two more times. When I started to feel better, I began to see what an incredible job the doctors and nurses do on psychiatric wards. I went back to finish my final year of university, but I struggled.
I think it was too much for me too soon. I hope to go back into medicine at some point in the future.
Writing the book was definitely a cathartic process for me and I think it has helped me on the road to recovery.
Starfish: A Year in the Life of Bereavement and Depression is available from www.chipmunka publishing.co.uk at £17 including postage and packaging and as an ebook for £5.
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