As a non-smoker, the prospect of lung cancer had never even entered Amelia Ford’s mind, so her world fell apart when not only was she diagnosed with the disease but was told it was incurable.
Mum-of-two Amelia tells AASMA DAY why she is determined to fight as long as she can to create happy memories for her children.
REACHING the top of the stairs carrying her then four-month-old daughter in her arms, Amelia Ford found herself gasping for breath.
Alarm bells started ringing as she knew this wasn’t normal.
Amelia, now 36, who lives in Euxton, near Chorley, with husband Stephen and daughters Imogen, three and Eva, who will turn two next month, explains: “Walking up the stairs carrying a baby should not be a struggle, but I found I was getting out of breath by the time I reached the top.
“You should be able to carry your children without too much effort.
“It made me question what was wrong and keep going back to the doctors.”
Amelia, currently an inpatient at St Catherine’s Hospice in Lostock Hall, near Preston, says it all started in August 2013 when the whole family was struck by chest infections.
Amelia recalls: “We were all on antibiotics and everyone else’s chest infection went away, but mine didn’t shift.
“I kept going back to the GP and given different antibiotics. But it just didn’t clear up.
“I had an annoying cough and a crackle at the back of my throat when I lay down.
“If it hadn’t been for my daughters and realising I couldn’t walk up the stairs without getting breathless, I probably would have dismissed it.
“If I had not had my kids, I would have been at work full-time and made excuses about not having time to go to the doctors.
“But having Imogen and Eva made me more concerned about my own health because I needed to be well myself to look after them.
“If it hadn’t been for them, it would have been easy for me to ignore the signs.”
Amelia was sent to hospital for a chest X-ray in November 2013 and a second one the following month, which didn’t show any change.
The cancer Amelia has looks the same as a chest infection on an X-ray and it is difficult to tell the difference.
Amelia says: “The X-rays didn’t really show anything suspicious as no one was expecting such a severe diagnosis.
“The second X-ray prompted a referral to a respiratory consultant, who referred me for a CT scan. The results of this were the first indication that something more was wrong.
“Suspicions were raised and I was sent for a bronchoscopy in February 2014.
“Within a week, I had the cancer diagnosis.”
Amelia and her husband saw an oncologist who told the devastated couple Amelia had lung cancer and it was non-curative.
Amelia remembers: “Our world just fell apart.
“I was 34 at the time and had a nine-month-old Eva sat on my knee.
“To be told you probably won’t be here in two years time and that you are not going to be around to see your children grow up is every mother’s nightmare.
“We were all completely devastated and shocked. You don’t expect something like this and it came completely out of the blue.”
Amelia, who has never smoked and has no family history of lung cancer, admits it seemed extremely unfair that she had got the disease.
She explains: “It is a non small cell lung cancer and is just a genetic blip. The consultant described it as ‘really bad luck.’
“The diagnosis was like a bolt out of the blue. I had never even picked up a cigarette and there was no family history or suggestion something like this would happen.
“Most lung cancer charities and research focus on smoker’s lung cancer.
“No disrespect to smokers, but smoking is a lifestyle choice and I didn’t make that choice.
“It does seem unfair that I have got lung cancer without the research or a cure.
“But you can’t get hung up on these things.”
Amelia, who was a senior auditor at Blackpool Council, sought a second opinion from Manchester’s Christie Hospital and they took over her treatment.
Within two weeks, Amelia began chemotherapy and had four rounds of it until May last year.
Amelia recalls: “Everything happened so quickly and you just get caught up in the rollercoaster.
“Before you know it, you are dealing with it. You don’t have time to think about it.
“Because I have little ones, right from the beginning, for me it was all about fighting it and keeping things as normal as possible to protect my children from the hideousness of it all.
“I even went back to work for three or four months after my diagnosis and people didn’t know I was ill because I didn’t wallow in it.
“However, I had to take ill health retirement in January this year.”
Amelia says although her daughters are still very young, they have tried to explain things to them the best they can.
She says: “We have told them Mummy has cancer and they know it is in my lungs and isn’t going to go away.
“They are a bit too little to understand the full consequences, but Imogen is getting a grasp as she sometimes comes out with things like: ‘You have to come home Mummy otherwise you are going to die and go to heaven.’
“Eva is too young to express what she feels but she understands things are not as they should be.
“The impact on the children has been huge.”
From the beginning, Amelia was adamant she wanted to carry on and do as much as possible to create happy memories for her daughters.
She says: “I want my children to remember me as someone who was happy and fun, not someone who was sad and ill.
“That is not how little ones should remember their mum.
“My focus has been on creating as many happy memories as possible, rather than wasting my energy on being angry and upset.
“The impact on the girls has been the hardest thing about my diagnosis, but they are also my biggest source of inspiration to keep fighting. When I was diagnosed, I had two options – roll over and let it happen and let the disease become the most important thing, or fight it with everything I have got.
“I decided to fight it and the girls are my biggest motivation in that.
“It is the hardest thing knowing they will be without their mum from a very young age and it is devastating knowing I will not get to see the things a mum wants to see their kids do.
“But children live in the moment and are always capable of finding something positive in everything. Even when I have had the most miserable of days, they make me smile.”
Amelia, who spent a month in hospital over Christmas and New Year with a chest infection, was admitted to St Catherine’s Hospice as an inpatient in January with medics believing she wouldn’t return home again.
However, she managed to get well enough to go back home and is now in the hospice again to recover from a severe bout of fatigue.
Amelia says the support of St Catherine’s is helping her f ocus on regaining her strength so she can return home to her family.
She says: “When I came in here, I believed I wouldn’t leave again. But within a few days my opinion changed. Straight away, everyone at St Catherine’s was focused on working towards me going home. This was so refreshing.
“I didn’t feel like people had given up on me.
“With the right antibiotics and a lot of TLC from the nursing staff, I managed to get back home.
“The staff at St Catherine’s have been amazing. It feels like a really safe place to be.”
Even while in the hospice, Amelia sees her children daily – even if it is only for 45 minutes or an hour.
Amelia is full of praise for husband Stephen who is doing a great job of juggling looking after their children and home with working full-time as a key account director for a renewable energy company.
Amelia, who has been married to Stephen for five years and been with him for almost 14 years, says: “Stephen was completely devastated by my diagnosis and the extra weight and pressure on him is enormous.
“He works full-time and is a full-time dad and has a house to run and extra things to deal with which used to be shared responsibilities.
“He is doing a fantastic job of managing everything, but it is a situation neither one of us would have chosen.
“Ultimately, he will become a single dad.”
Amelia says it is the little mundane things she misses the most about being at home with her children.
She explains: “I miss mealtimes and I miss tucking them in at bedtime and reading them bedtime stories. It is only when you are not there that you realise how much the mundane everyday things really matter.
“I have also missed out on important things like seeing Eva take her first steps.
“However, I am hoping to return home again relatively soon.”
Amelia is speaking out about her situation to raise awareness that cancer can affect people of all ages and is urging people to get any concerns checked out.
Even though the outcome for Amelia would have been the same whenever the cancer was discovered, because of the nature of this type of the disease, there are many variations where time can significantly improve the chances of treatment.
Amelia says: “If there is something which doesn’t feel right, get it investigated.
“You know your body and what is normal for you and what isn’t.
“Make sure you respond to any signs, however small.
“It could be something trivial, but it might be something important.
“If you’re not happy with an outcome then push for more and get a second opinion.”
Amelia’s goal is now to get well enough to go home and spend quality time with her family.
She says: “2014 was all about creating happy memories and we went on days out and holidays.
“Even though 2015 has had a rocky start, I still want to pack in happy memories and quality time this year.
“It is about implanting positive memories in my children’s minds.
“Eva is so little, so I have to maximise the opportunities to leave her with happy first hand memories.
“I do not want to be defined by the fact I have cancer and am determined to fight as long as possible.”