Following the birth of her eldest daughter in 2013, Laura Stephenson gave birth to twin girls on April 25th 2017. There was huge excitement among all the family, her mother, her two sisters, in-laws and of course myself, her dad. Two identical girls that arrived amidst lots of questions:- Are there twins in the family , how do you feed two at the same time, do they both sleep at the same time, will Mum and Dad get any more sleep, the need for a twin pram, can we fit 3 car seats in the back of the car. Lots of questions all based around the twins. In the middle of all this I had previously agreed to go to Malawi as a Volunteer and work on a very special project in Education for Voluntary Services Overseas. This was something I had always wanted to do. After discussions with my family, particularly Laura, it was agreed that I should still go, hopefully keeping in touch technologically and return in 12 months’ time.
On 26th June 2017 I flew out to Malawi. At Christmas time I surprised the family and flew back home for the Christmas period. Well, couldn’t really miss the twins first Christmas! Following my return to Malawi, unbeknown really to me, Laura had been suffering a few issues with her body. These issues she had put down to having given birth to twins and it was her body recovering. Looking after 3 children was a full time job. On top of this she returned to her post as a Fund Raiser for a Cancer Charity. Eventually, after much persuasion, she did go to the doctors and after a number of visits she was sent to the hospital for a scan. The scan of her ovaries was clear but things just didn’t seem to be right. Laura returned to the doctors and this time she was sent for another scan.
On the evening of Thursday 19th April 2018 I received a phone call in Malawi from Laura, who was on her way home from the consultation following her scan.
“Dad they say I’ve got Stage 4 Bowel Cancer and the prognosis isn’t good. I don’t want to die Dad. I want to see my girls grow up!”
As a Dad, particularly when you are 8,000 miles away all you can say is “You will see them grow up!” By Saturday I was home in Lancashire.
Laura was 33 when she was diagnosed. An operation was apparently not possible as the tumour had spread and had gone too far. I remember sitting in the hospital waiting for Laura’s consultation, reading a poster which said Early Detection of Bowel Cancer at stage 1 results in 85% successful treatment; Detection of Stage 4 Bowel Cancer results in 8% successful treatment.
From then on it was a long road of Chemotherapy. One of the hopes was that the Chemotherapy would have such an effect on the tumour that an operation would be possible. Laura would tell you exactly what the Chemo cocktail of drugs was. Many strange sounding names. To start with she would have Chemotherapy fortnightly at the local hospital, a PICC line, and then have a bottle/bag attached to her for the next 48 hours while it went slowly into her system. When she had this of course she couldn’t get it wet so wore a covering around her arm. Still playing and caring for her girls, just being careful of the line going into her.
She began to loose her hair due to the Chemotherapy, so off we went to find a suitable wig for her. The day after purchasing a wig, she took a phone call at her work from a distraught mother and daughter who were really worried about the daughter losing her hair. Laura responded in her usual friendly way by saying “Oh I did that yesterday There’s nothing to it. It’s really easy.”
Wearing the wig was not always very comfortable, but with a huge sigh of relief at the end of the day, it was removed.
During this period, Laura being Laura of course, didn’t stop her fund raising post at the Cancer Charity, didn’t stop her being the amazing mother of her three girls, didn’t stop her taking her eldest daughter to school, didn’t stop her going to church, didn’t stop her helping those around her. In fact it didn’t stop her from doing anything!
Lead by her enormous faith, she continued to lead an amazing life, talking about her condition, encouraging others she met during her time at hospital, inspiring all those she met to have a positive outlook on life.
At the start her ‘bloods’ very much behaved themselves and she underwent Chemotherapy regularly. As a family, of course, we all tried to find ways to help her condition. I don’t think Google had ever been used so much ! A vast number of inspiring books were bought written by people who had ‘conquered’ cancer. Advice being given on what to eat, how to exercise, and probably more importantly on ‘state of mind’. Blenders were bought that produced very strange green looking liquids which we took to Laura almost every day. Although not always keen to eat/drink them, we did try to persuade her ( not always successfully)
Laura’s cancer was spreading, although some scans were positive and gave us all great hope. Bouncing or rebounding was said to be good for the lymph nodes, so a small trampette was bought. A liquidiser for nutrients; seeds of all sorts, every living green vegetable was tried. Many I’d never even heard of. Everything we could possibly do to help.
Laura remained immensely positive about everything. Without doubt her faith was immense and was the corner stone of her life. Many times she stood up publicly to talk about what was happening and about her faith that something bigger than the Cancer was looking after her.
Many people who knew Laura, said she should record her thoughts and words for everyone to read. In August 2018, she started to write a blog. Her first words were typical of her;
“Since all this started people keep saying I need to write things down; my story. I’m not sure much of what I have to say will be interesting ….”
For the next 16 months she continued to write down her thoughts and experiences. That blog is now her book.
With Chemotherapy visits not seeming to have any long lasting effects, she was moved on to a tablet form of Chemotherapy. She was really pleased that this happened as it meant the PICC line could come out and that her girls didn’t need to be as careful when they were cuddling mummy. Laura was desperate to access a trial that would be beneficial to her. None seemed forthcoming from the hospital. Again researching on the Internet, we continued to try and find trials for Laura’s exact condition. Some were found, with great excitement, but on reporting them to the hospital it was discovered that the consultant had missed the application date, it wasn’t quite right or the trials were already full.
However, at no point did Laura give in. Accessing as many bowel cancer consultants around the country, from the North to the South; it was a continual search.
In the summer of 2019 one of Laura’s sister was married in Majorca, Spain. Getting three girls, under 6, packed and ready to fly was no mean feat. With the support of her amazing husband, Mark, off they flew to the wedding. An amazing time was had by all. Many of the guests were completely unaware of Laura’s condition. Laura swam in the pool with her husband and daughters, danced till the early hours to the music , and was a beautiful bridesmaid to her sister.
After returning it was discovered that the Chemotherapy tablets were not having the effect that was hoped for. So she was taken off the tablets and so for several weeks had no treatment whatsoever.
During this period Laura and I went to 2 music gigs, the first by one of Laura’s favourite musicians, Frank Turner and the other by Mumford and Sons. On the way home after standing throughout the gig, (never quite sure how she managed to do that !) we sang two of Frank Turner’s songs out loud, “Be More Kind” and “Getting Better.” They both epitomised her thoughts and hopes. .
We had heard of a treatment using Mistletoe therapy, so we contacted the clinic in Scotland where this treatment was given. In October, Laura and I flew up to Scotland to the clinic where for a week Laura underwent treatment with the Mistletoe. This deliberately induced a fever which it was hoped would get the body’s immune system firing up again to fight the tumour. During that week we walked to a local beach to watch the seals playing in the water although Laura didn’t really have the energy to walk very far we would stay on the beach, with the wind blowing around us, the sun beating down on us and just stood for what must have been two hours, not particularly speaking but just watching the seals heads bobbing up and down out of the water.
The treatment according to the clinic had gone well, and we were thrilled with the kindness and support given by the clinic. Two weeks later we were to return to the clinic. But this time we went on the train, an easier journey albeit more than a 5 hour journey. Unfortunately Laura wasn’t feeling as well this time and only had half the dosage of the Mistletoe.
In November, Laura got the news that there was a trial being run at The Christie Hospital in Manchester which could possibly be exactly right for her. Laura with Mark went for the initial tests which were positive. Two days later she returned for more tests and forms to sign to agree to the trial, telling Mark that they could go Christmas shopping straight afterwards as it was a good chance to get their daughters the Christmas presents without them being there. Really pleased with the news of the trial, they were just about to leave the hospital, when the doctors said that they had found an infection, and they would like to admit her for further tests.
Laura stayed at The Christie for ten days. It was looking less and less likely that she would be fit enough for the trials. Just before Laura was allowed to go home, a consultant came up to Laura and said words that Laura had always wanted to hear;
“Do you want me to throw everything we have at this?”
To which Laura replied, “I’ve been waiting almost 2 years for someone to say that! Yes please” and he said I see no reason why we can’t start Chemotherapy as soon as possible. Laura had a port fitted there and then, to save having a PICC line. She was looking forward to continuing with Chemotherapy
Laura returned home and spent the rest of the day playing and talking with her three girls.
Still staying positive, Laura continued to play and read and encourage her girls. In December, it was found that she had developed Pneumonia and was admitted to hospital. Having treated the Pneumonia the hospital asked Laura if she would like to go home for Christmas. She jumped at the chance.
Christmas was spent with all her family. Christmas day she watched her girls open their Christmas presents. Confined to a bed downstairs she took part in Christmas dinner and all the festivities of Christmas. Mark, her husband, and I spent every day by her bedside watching countless episodes of Friends, completing endless numbers of crosswords and laughing together. Although by now she had lost her voice, she wrote down everything that she wanted to say.
On the night of December 28th she asked me to open the patio doors. Although it was the middle of winter in the UK I did as I was asked. On December 29th at the age of 36 Laura’s body was unable to continue. Why she asked for the doors to be opened is now anyone’s guess.
Laura’s blog was called Warrior Diaries, because she believed that she was in a battle, a battle against the cancer. She believed that she was in this battle with God fighting alongside her. And that with God everything was possible. Her spirit was certainly never ever broken.
It was just her body that couldn’t sustain her life.
She leaves behind her an amazing husband, Mark and three wonderful daughters, Heidi, Sophie and Naomi and family and friends that are in absolute an awe of her positivity and faith.
I use the words, ‘her body couldn’t sustain her life’ carefully. Laura’s diaries, proved she wasn’t a lone warrior. She had support from a huge army of family, friends and most of all the support of her faith, her belief in God, as they all battled against the cancer that was enveloping her body. It was through this faith that she won the battle. Her faith stayed with her until her body breathed its last breath.
Laura’s positivity for life was inspiring. It rubbed off on all she met. I don’t think in the twenty months of her battle did I ever hear a negative comment about her illness.
Never an excuse; never an “…if only…” comment; never a “why me?” Yes, she would get cross but as in “I’m going to fight this” attitude. Yes, she had times when she questioned things but without doubt something would come along that would re-ignite that spark of hope, be it small or a blinding light, every time she felt unsure of her path the spark was there. She was constantly willing to share this light with everyone.
Her blogs absolutely portrayed her life; positivity, hope, faith, caring, thinking of others. All of them are a true testament to her life.
“How are you?” is the generic greeting usually given and Laura’s response literally up to the last day of her life was “I’m fine. How are you?” I know she made me think hard about her words, as she did everyone she met. She lived her life as a shining example of her faith. Every discussion, with her, every deed she undertook, made those around her feel more positive.
I can safely say ………
“Laura won the battle”
That is why I decided to put together her blog diary, thoughts and words together in book form. To show that Cancer doesn’t have to mean we give up, doesn’t have to mean we feel sorry for ourselves, it doesn’t mean we give up hope.
Most books that you read are written by survivors of Cancer, rarely do we read one written by someone that Cancer has taken. But it’s not intended to be a sad book. Far from it. This unusual book details the writings of a remarkable young woman. Her words have inspired and captivated all of her readers. ‘Nobody Said it Would Be Easy’ is a collection of blog entries, quotes and written messages. Laura’s faith clearly shines through, but her entries and thoughts are pertinent to all our daily lives. It’s about living, about faith, about hope, about courage, and about an unswerving belief that those with cancer can live an amazing life. She had a regular saying which I’ve encapsulated in this picture.
This book will task everyone to look for the positives in their life and then act.
*Laura’s positivity is a beacon of light which has impacted so many people’s lives from all walks of life, including my own. I am forever grateful to Mike, Laura’s dad, for sharing her story to inspire and support others along their journeys. Laura’s love, hope and thoughtfulness for others, as well as her courage and determination is truly admirable and she has left a lasting legacy. May her beautiful soul rest in peace.
Love, Jojo xxxx