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Bowel Warrior Beth Purvis: 'When it's possible that it could be your last Christmas, the gift of time is incredibly precious'




Beth Purvis, aka Bowel Warrior, a 41-year-old married mother of two living in Elsenham, started writing a column for the Indie in May 2019 about living with stage 4 bowel cancer. In May 2020, with the cancer having spread to her brain as well as her lungs, she decided to stop the column and put her family first. But she's back...

Since I last wrote, loads has happened, but in a weird way, it feels like nothing has really happened.

So where did I leave you? Ah yes, lockdown, cancelled operation and the cancer had spread to my brain. Since then I have undergone two courses of radiotherapy and started on immunotherapy. I would explain what immunotherapy is, but I don’t really understand it myself – I just know I have to take tablets daily and go to the hospital every fortnight to have an intravenous infusion of a drug I can barely pronounce.

Beth with husband Richard and their children Joe, 12, and Abi, 10, on their taxi trip to London to see the Christmas lights
Beth with husband Richard and their children Joe, 12, and Abi, 10, on their taxi trip to London to see the Christmas lights

That’s a very quick catch-up of what’s been happening with me and my cancer. The rest of the world has gone Covid crazy, and we are back in lockdown nine months after this all started.

There is so much I could say about cancer and Covid: treatment delays, stats about deaths, shielding, life with cancer during the pandemic. All those have been covered so much in the mainstream media, although I will say please, please get checked out if you’re worried about your health – the NHS is open for everyone, not just for Covid.

We all know what a Covid Christmas is like now, but how about a Covid Christmas with terminal cancer?

"People donated lovely gifts, including hampers, decorative balloons, cupcakes, afternoon tea to take with us and some vouchers"
"People donated lovely gifts, including hampers, decorative balloons, cupcakes, afternoon tea to take with us and some vouchers"

Well, when it's possible that it could be your last Christmas, all you want is the perfect Christmas with all your family; OK, we all know there's no such thing as perfect, but, y'know, as perfect as possible.

My family is pretty big and we usually have at least one day over Christmas where we all get together. When I say ‘we’ I mean my aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins' children – in total about 36 people. Oddly, we all generally get on well and even the introduction of alcohol doesn’t cause bust-ups. Last year we spent three days in Scotland together and it was a truly special time, without too much mayhem.

You can imagine that planning five days with only three different households was tough. Just my parents and siblings involves five households – how do you pick your favourite sibling? Instead of a week-and-a-half packed with social events and family gatherings, we had a few small get-togethers and some shows planned. It was actually looking like a fairly good Christmas.

Then something quite incredible happened. The members of a Facebook group I admin got wind of why it was a special Christmas for me and decided they wanted to do something for our family. They arranged for us to have a London cab tour to see the Christmas lights.

The gift of afternoon tea that arose from a giving campaign on the Bishop's Stortford Mummies Village Facebook group
The gift of afternoon tea that arose from a giving campaign on the Bishop's Stortford Mummies Village Facebook group

Christmas was shaping up to be special in a totally different way. Then we came out of lockdown 2 and back into the tier system, with us here in Elsenham a little island in tier 2 Uttlesford surrounded by tier 4. The panto we had booked was cancelled, but that was OK, we still had our five days to look forward to. Oh no, I was wrong – we had only one day and we couldn’t see anyone in tier 4.

We were faced with cancelling our Christmas Day with my husband Richard’s parents, where we were going to be guests, and crucially neither of us would be cooking. My parents, my brother and his wife were planning on going to my sister’s, but she was in tier 4. Three households in tier 2 with nowhere to go and no Christmas dinner. Volunteering to host and jumping on the internet to amend my food delivery to include a turkey, we would be going from being cooked for to cooking for eight. Actually, Richard would be cooking – I just volunteered him!

Then the news broke that we would be plunged into tier 4 on Boxing Day, and our Silverstone Lapland experience had to be cancelled too.

Looking on the bright side, the London cab trip was still happening and we were lucky enough to be able to see some family on Christmas Day – it was still going to be a good Christmas.

Turns out the lovely mums of the Bishop’s Stortford Mummies Village Facebook group had also collected some money and it was enough for Richard to take extra time off work to spend with me and the children, essentially giving us the gift of time, which is incredibly precious when time is short.

Various people donated lovely gifts including hampers, decorative balloons, cupcakes, afternoon tea to take with us and some vouchers.

Although Christmas was different this year, this incredible act of kindness and community – the trip to see the lights, the gifts and the extra time Richard would be spending with us over Christmas – really made it very special.

I am hoping 2021 is a better year for all of us, but right now I am just grateful to still be alive and I’m still enjoying the uplifting feeling of the generosity and kindness of strangers.

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