‘I have cancer,’ said my mum. And a nine-year battle began.....


With three young children and an unquenchable zest for life, Tracey Coleman battled breast cancer for almost a decade. She lost her fight last year but remains an enduring inspiration for her family. In a moving testament to her mother’s courage, Clara Coleman explains why she’ll be taking part in the Pink Ladies Sunset Coastal Walk on 20 June – and why other women should, too...

THIS year I will be taking part in the Pink Ladies Sunset Coastal Walk along with my younger sister Charis, my nanny Valerie and many other friends and family in remembrance of my lovely mum, Tracey Coleman, who died last year.

I, and everyone that knew her, thought my mum was a very special little lady. Despite her long and painful battle against cancer, mum never failed to amaze me with her unceasing care for others. No task was ever too challenging or demanding for her and she would always respond to the needs of others before her own.

Because of her eternal generosity, she was heavily involved in the fight against cancer, having done this walk before, as well as assisting at the Race for Life as a marshal and volunteering at the PEH to give back to the community that helped in her times of need. My mum’s suffering is something no person should have to endure, yet she fought through it with the most immense courage while always putting her family, namely her children, before herself, which is why I consider her such an inspiration.

Mum’s journey began in February 2005. After discovering a lump in her right breast, she was diagnosed with grade three breast cancer. My parents had known of the possibility of cancer but had kept this to themselves, because at the time my grandfather was terminally ill and mum did not want to place additional strain on the family. My paternal grandfather died one month before mum received her diagnosis.

I remember my mum and my dad sitting me down with tears in their eyes, struggling to say the words ‘I have cancer’ to their eldest child, then the tender age of nine.

For such a young family – my brother Louis was seven and my sister, Charis, five at the time – to deal with such shockingly devastating news was very painful, but what made things worse was that one month later, mum had to undergo a mastectomy.

We all felt powerless in not being able to support her when she needed us most and the eight months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to follow proved a continued uphill struggle.

With dad caring for mum, we as siblings grew very dependent on one another and I took it upon myself to support Louis and Charis in any way possible.

After two years, mum decided to undergo reconstructive surgery at Winchester hospital. Unfortunately, the surgery didn’t go as hoped and she contracted an infection, leaving her extremely ill in the PEH for a further six weeks and putting a huge strain on family life.

Despite mum being constantly in and out of hospital, we kids were pushed by her to take up every opportunity possible. Her liveliness and support motivated us to take on all sorts of hobbies including music, acting, dancing, swimming, languages, trampolining and roller-blading. Her zest for life was definitely expressed through us and this eventually showed.

In 2011, mum was given the all clear and her six years of undying courage seemingly paid off. After this experience she wasn’t going to be tamed, and she took it upon herself to do everything in life she wanted to do. She and dad loved to camp in Herm every summer, she managed to squeeze in three cruises in a number of years and worked part-time at various places including the Health Information Exchange, as she loved being able to help people who were going through similar things to herself.

In August 2012, while on a cruise that was to be our last family holiday, mum lost her own mother to cancer. This was the first time I had seen my mum so low, and sadly things were soon going to deteriorate. In November that year Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. When she told me I actually laughed in utter shock, unable to believe that the vicious circle we thought we had triumphed over was rearing its head again. But the cancer had spread from her breast via her lymph nodes.

The news was shattering to us all, particularly when things started to feel normal again. However it did not break mum, and the remainder of her life from that moment on was the bravest thing I have ever seen. A month later she went on a London shopping trip with her close family to celebrate her 50th birthday, and she continued to live her life in the fullest sense possible, often shopping with friends and going out for afternoon teas. She continued to work at various places including Beau Sejour, which she loved as she was able to watch me and my sister perform for free at dance festivals and Eistedfodds.

She never complained. More often than not it would be mum comforting me as opposed to the other way around, and because of her strength I was able to ignore the cancer and instead appreciate the lovely people I was blessed to have around me.

It was not until March 2014 that things took an unexpected turn, leaving mum hospitalised after a fall. Cancer had spread to her liver, abdomen and skull and this affected her eyesight and finally her ability to walk. Things happened very suddenly, eventually leaving her in a great deal of pain and unable to speak, move or eat.

After a great deal of suffering, mum passed away peacefully on 7 April last year at 3pm, having battled against cancer for nine years of her life.

Her fight was extraordinary and I still find it hard to comprehend how she was able to remain so brave while her life seemed to be falling apart. The Pink Ladies were a tremendous help to my mum and our family cannot thank everyone enough for the support given to us, particularly through events like the Sunset Walk, which make such a significant difference.

That’s why I urge island women to take part.

As my mum reminded me, it is important to remember that fighting cancer is not beyond us, and having watched her take control of her own life I feel fortunate knowing that others affected by it can take control too.

I am profoundly lucky to be able to call Tracey Coleman my mum, and I know that all the people whose lives she touched feel blessed to have known her.

Article courtesy of the Guernsey Press & Star

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