“Immortality is to live your life doing good things, and leaving your mark behind.”
I often like to start these things with a meaningful quote; something profound or thought provoking because when I sit down to write something like this it can take me a while to collect my thoughts into something cohesive and flowing. It feels a little like writing a paper for university but really, in the grand scheme of the events in the world, I think this might be one of the more important and hopefully influential things I write.
I want to share with you the experiences I have had in my life with Cancer. Thankfully, I personally have never been through the trauma of diagnosis and treatment for this horrible disease but I have known so many people who have. Some whom have been lost to this world and some that have survived. Sadly, the former is more common in my life. Just while I’ve been alive I’ve lost both of my grandmothers to cancer, one of whom I’ll discuss a little later because that woman was and is an absolute trooper. I’ve also lost a second cousin to a very rare form of cancer and she fought for many many years before it took her from this world. Though I’ll never forget any of them. Not just because they were family, but because of the good things they did with their lives that will make them live forever in the hearts and minds of those who knew them best.
With the anniversary of the death of my maternal grandmother coming up at the end of this month and the recent deaths of Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister, David Bowie and Alan Rickman to this cruel disease it’s been brought to the forefront of my mind once again, partially torn open old wounds and just makes me miss those I personally lost even more and I wanted to share my experience of loss with you all, as a bit of cathartic release for myself I suppose and in the hopes that you’ll feel comfortable enough to want to share your experiences with me.
Perhaps sharing yours will help you in some way to heal and I’ve found a few times it’s often easier to offload onto a stranger than someone you are close to.
Now to share the story of my grandmother. The late, Linda Claire Baker. She truly was an amazing woman, of course as a youngster we sometimes had fallings out. One of my fondest memories was when I was around 13 or 14. I’d been play fighting with my uncle, which was quite commonplace in our family and she’d already told us to stop. Several times.
In a way only she could, considering her barely 5 feet of height, she banished us to sit on the stairs and think about what we’d done and to calm down. I had to sit on the top step and my 30-something year old Uncle was made to sit on the bottom stair. We laughed about it and we still do to this day whenever we see each other. She just had this way about her, regardless of how much taller than her we all grew she still knew how to make sure we behaved ourselves properly.
When she was younger, long before I was born she’d be there helping out with costumes for the Amatuer Dramatics group my mum was a part of, she coached the kids at school in athletics and herself was a very proficient hurdler. She was always donating blood and trying her hardest to help people who needed it most, whether she knew them or not.
Although at the start of their married life her and my grandfather didn’t have a lot of money left at the end of each week and their treat to themselves was a small bag of sweets they would share. Later on in life they earned more money and were able to live more than comfortably but it’s the boiled sweets story that I’ll always remember being told.
Once my brothers and I came along we would go and stay with her and my grandfather for a week every year in the school holidays and we’d have the best fun. Going swimming and to our favourite place in the whole world when we were young, Bekonscot Model Village. For hours we’d walk around, finding out the names of the trains and then noting down each time we spotted them again as we walked around the little village over and over. Nanny must have been so tired at the end of each day but she never once complained, I think she loved to see us so happy doing something so silly. However, we were all avid Thomas The Tank Engine lovers when we were small and thought it was the best thing ever. My brother and I still get a little overexcited at the chance to see a real life steamy in action!
I vaguely remember being in my teens when she first got sick, it didn’t seem like much of a big deal was made of it back then and perhaps that was our mother’s way of trying to protect us. She was diagnosed with kidney cancer and it was quickly treated by having the kidney removed. Doctors had said it was all contained within the sac and it hasn’t spread anywhere else. She went into remission for many years, we got our grandmother back for 10 whole years.
About 3-4 years ago she begins having headaches, thinks nothing of it at first and after a while goes to see the doctors. It was back and it was in her head. In fact it wasn’t just in her head but riddled throughout her body. It was the worst possible news we could be given and I couldn’t bare the thought of losing her. Treatments were researched and for a while she had a treatment known as the cyberknife. I don’t know how many people have heard of it but it’s quite an expensive treatment and looks horrific to watch someone have done.
It helped for a while, it elevated the headaches somewhat I believe and it gave my husband and I a chance to get married and have our daughter before she passed.
They didn’t give her long to live and my husband and I planned our wedding in a few months on a limited budgets I make sure she was there to see her eldest grandchild (me) get married. Though even then she was very poorly. Riddled with diabetes because her body was so broken by the cancer and I remember telling her about Sophia, my daughter and willing that it was enough to live for that she’d make it to see her born.
My mum would go down and see her often and when my grandad had to go away on work trips when she was too poorly to go with him, she came to stay with my mum and we got some quality time with her. The last time I saw her was in October of 2013, it was the party to celebrate her and my granddad’s wedding anniversary and it was where one of my most favourite photos was taken. My nanny, mum, me and my daughter. 4 generations of Baker women together and it will always mean the world to me.
The day of her funeral was so hard. I’d never been to a funeral before, let alone seen a dead body and I remember so clearly seeing her laying there in her wicker basket, which had been so beautifully decorated in flowers. She was wearing the outfit she’d worn to my wedding not 2 years before and she looked so peaceful.
It’s not something I think of often, I try and remember her how she had been, how she was. The nanny who would spend hours sorting out the thread colours for her colourblind granddaughter so I could sew projects while I was there for the week. Or who, whenever she came to see us would bring us the most delicious chocolate cake that will forever be known as ‘Nanny cake’ and not just to us either. People who would stop in to the house would always ask if there was any nanny cake left if they knew she’d been and there never was because we’d eaten it all.
My brother Sam has always said when the time came that he wanted to be one of those who carried her in and out of the service and I remember seeing him there on the day and he, like the rest of us were in pieces. I don’t think he managed it without crying but he said to me and to my mum that he’d told her he would and so no matter how hard he would find it, he would fulfill his promise and do what he said he would. This is why I love my brother so dearly. Even in his grief he still was a man of his word.
When her funeral service was over and her basket carried into the woods for burial she went out in a blaze of glory, to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and it was perfect. She was an amazing woman, not just because she was my grandmother but because she left behind a legacy and a memory that will never fade in the hearts and minds of anyone who knew her. She was just incredible and even now, I miss ever every single day. I still tell Sophia about her Great-Nanny who she was named after, about all the things I remember from my childhood about her became even though Sophia Linda only knew her for such a short amount of time, her memory will not die with her, stories of Nanny Baker will be told throughout the generations of our family. She will never be forgotten.