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'If I can get both my children to adulthood before cancer kills me, that would be an achievement'

Beth Purvis, aka Bowel Warrior, a 40-year-old mother of two from Elsenham, writes for the Indie every fortnight about living with stage 4 cancer...

When my son, Joseph, was born 11 years ago, I genuinely questioned the sanity of the midwives letting me take this tiny baby home and care for him. I mean, there was no manual, how did this parenting thing work?

Three hundred and sixty-five days later I gave myself a huge pat on the back on his first birthday: I had managed to keep him alive for a whole year – I was winning at this parenting thing. Every milestone seemed like a big achievement: first solid food, first steps, first word, potty training.

Beth's 11-year-old son Joe starts secondary school in September (14798273)
Beth's 11-year-old son Joe starts secondary school in September (14798273)

Then, two years later, my daughter, Abigail, came along and it started all over again, only this time I was smugly confident in my mothering skills – I had this.

Before I knew it, my tiny baby boy was starting school – the biggest milestone yet. He looked so small walking in through the gates among the bigger kids.

It was an emotional day, the big realisation that he was growing up hit me. Where had the time gone? How was he starting school already? Then just like that it was our new normal: doing the school run, learning spellings, arguing about homework.

I just took it for granted that I would be watching my other tiny baby meet that milestone too, and two years later there she was in her uniform, with me wondering what I was going to do with a whole six hours a day child-free. Like every other parent in history, I soon realised six hours really is not that long at all.

This summer marked the next major milestone for my first-born: the end of primary school and the start of secondary school.

Watching Joseph’s leavers’ assembly, I had tears rolling down my face, and at the end of the day I took a deep breath and felt the emotions well up as I watched him walk out through the gates for the very last time with his shirt covered in his friends’ signatures (I say 'signatures', I mean 'scribbles').

There was more to my emotional state that day than feeling sad at yet another reminder that my baby was growing up too fast. I was also thinking ahead, two years ahead to when my other baby leaves primary school.

These milestone are important to every parent and they bring up the same emotions in us all, but for me they also bring with them questions and worries.

Will I be here to see Abigail leave primary and start secondary? Will I be here to see them both through their GCSEs and A-levels? Will I help them apply for university or apprenticeships or their first job?

Will I be around to talk to Abigail about periods? Who will wipe their tears when their hearts are broken for the first time? Will I see them get married? Will I meet any grandchildren?

Each time Joseph hits a milestone, I now wonder if I will see Abigail meet that same milestone. I set myself a little target to be here to see her do the same, but it is totally out of my hands whether I meet my own targets. It is a bit like planning to win the lottery: no matter what you do, how well you organise, you just have no idea whether it will actually happen or not.

My sensible head (yes, I do have one) says that anything could happen to anyone at any time – y'know, freak accident, sudden heart attack, run over by a bus – so really there is no reason for me to worry about these things any more than the next person. My irrational head always takes over and starts making pointless plans to make it to the next milestone, because, y'know... well... cancer.

According to my doctors, seeing grandchildren is probably out of the question, but I think if I can get both my children to adulthood that would be an achievement. If I can just be here to support them through those formative teenage years, that is what I am aiming for right now.

Then I could relax a little, knowing I had done the most important bit of this job of mum and the rest would be down to them. They might not be ready, but they will be capable of taking responsibility for themselves.

Well, at least, apparently the law thinks so. I mean, at 18 they can both sign contracts and drink alcohol, of course they'll be responsible, respectable citizens... and I could win the lottery.

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