‘I received a text from my mother: ‘Can you come home after work please, I want to talk to you about the results of my CT scan.’ I raced home. My heart sank.’

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“In my 25 years of life, I have dealt with heartbreak, emotionally challenging relationships, anxiety, depression, and the emotional roller-coaster that is completing two university degrees. I have lost family members to suicide, and I have become unrecognizable to my grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease. I will be the first to tell you that I am resilient. I am strong, and I can endure just about anything, but nothing prepared me for watching my mother slowly die of brain cancer.

June 16th, 2017, is a day I will never forget. I received a text message from my mother: ‘Can you come home after work please, I want to talk to you about the results of my CT scan.’ I raced home and when I walked through the door, my heart sank. My mother was sitting on the couch and through tears she explained to me that the doctor had found several lesions on her brain. This was very serious and the worst news we could have received. After fighting cancer since the age of 18, you can imagine how my mother felt after hearing it had spread to her brain. She felt this disease had consumed her, and after a lifetime of fighting, it was finally catching up to her. We sat in silence for a while. I had no words and I felt sick to my stomach. My mother, my best friend and my biggest supporter was about to begin the biggest fight of her life. The words that my mother spoke in this moment were quite remarkable. She started to tell me how grateful she was for the years she had with me and my sister, Megan. ‘I never expected to live long enough to watch you both grow up, and I am grateful for the time that I did have.’ Her outlook on her diagnosis was nothing but pure optimism. She was the strongest person I have been blessed to know, and I knew in this moment that she wasn’t going down without a fight.

Mother squats behind young daughter in plant nursery
Courtesy of Robyn Curnew

A few days later we drove 8 hours across the island of Newfoundland for my mother to receive brain surgery. Those 8 hours are some that I am very thankful for today. I always enjoyed traveling with my mother. It meant we could listen to our favorite songs and talk for hours about anything we wanted, and that was exactly what we did.

On June 22nd, the doctors arrived to take my mother to the operating room for brain surgery. She was gowned up, and as she always did before any surgery, she put her special prayer medallion in her mesh bootie. We walked to the operating room doors, myself and my sister hugged and kissed her and off she went. There is always a risk during any major surgery, but brain surgery is much scarier. I fought back tears and we began the wait outside the OR doors. Approximately 5 hours later, the doctor came to tell us that everything went well, and my mother was upstairs in recovery. We were able to see her a few hours later and were pleased to see she was in good spirits. We left to return to the hotel, so she could get some rest.

June 22nd was also the day I sat in the hotel room and watched those two lines appear. I was pregnant; four weeks pregnant! I was so excited, but so scared. I had dreamt my entire life about becoming a mom. Since I was a little girl there was nothing more that I wanted than my own little family. The next day myself and my sister went to the hospital to see my mother. She joked and laughed with us, and we played with funny filters on Snapchat. There isn’t much about our conversations that day that I remember, but the one thing I do remember is her telling my sister and I that she would love to have a grandbaby to hold before she died. I thought to myself, ‘oh, how ironic.’ She had no idea! I was pregnant, and little did I know I was about to give my dying mother the best gift she had ever received.

Side view of pregnant woman in striped dress with polka dots
Courtesy of Robyn Curnew

The months that followed were fast. I invited my mom to doctor appointments, I surprised her when we found out the gender of the baby, we picked out nursery bedding, baby clothes and talked about what my son would be like. We celebrated my baby shower together, and my mother sat there and ‘ouu’ed’ and ‘aww’ed’ over every little piece of clothing I held up. She loved every minute of it and I was so happy that through all her pain and suffering, I was doing something to bring joy into her life. I called my mother one night and asked her if she would be in the delivery room with me. As my mother was a nurse, she always made me feel safe. There was nobody else I would rather have by my side than my mother. I prayed every day that she would be well enough to be there with me and thank God she was.

February 16th, 2018, I went into labor. I called my mother from the hospital and told her this was it. Despite the fact she was very sick, she jumped into her jeep and drove 45 minutes to the hospital. The doctors took me to the room where I would deliver my baby. The labor progressed quickly, and my mother stayed by my side the entire time. To this day, I thank God that she was in that room. ‘There is no heart rate on the monitor,’ she said. We pressed the emergency button and the nurses and doctor came running into the room. The minutes that followed are a blur, however I they were very scary and very intense. My baby’s heartrate had dropped to 50 bpm. He needed to come out and he needed to come out now. The obstetrician had no choice but to do an emergency delivery using forceps and vacuum to save my baby. At 1:10 a.m. on February 17th my baby boy, Jasper, was born. From that moment on he was the love of my mother’s life. She held him, kissed him and stared at him for hours. She was so in love. She called him ‘my Jasper’ and I jokingly said, ‘no mom, he’s mine!’ I was so proud to make my mother so happy despite all of the pain and sorrow she was facing. I was experiencing the best months of my life and the worst all at the same time.

Woman with cancer sits in hospital chair holding newborn grandchild
Courtesy of Robyn Curnew
Grandmother with cancer sits in chair in hospital room holding newborn
Courtesy of Robyn Curnew

My mother had six beautiful months with her grandbaby, Jasper. We spent together what would be her last Easter, Mother’s Day, my birthday, and Jasper’s baptism. Despite how sick she was, she held him, kissed him, made him laugh and bounced him on her knee. She used this funny voice that always made him smile and laugh. He loved her, and she loved him even more. She got to watch him grow from a 6 lb 12 oz newborn, to a 19 lb 6-month-old. I would send her photos and videos every day and she texted me ‘how is Jasper’ every single day. We visited her whenever she was in the hospital and she sat him between her legs in the hospital bed and played with him. For those six months, despite her body slowly shutting down, she was the best grandmother she could possibly be. She was so excited to spend Easter with us. She wasn’t feeling well, but she still put him together an Easter basket and got her picture taken with him. During the months that my mother was sick, she didn’t like getting her picture taken, but she did it so that Jasper would have memories with her. I am beyond thankful that we have these photos today.

Baby sits on couch beside Easter basket
Courtesy of Robyn Curnew
Woman with cancer stands in home holding grandson in her arms
Courtesy of Robyn Curnew

September 1st, 2018, my mother passed away. It still feels surreal to put that into words. Nothing prepares you for losing your mother. Nothing prepares you for losing your mother at the age of 25 and precisely after having your first child. Life can be unfair, and it can be straight up cruel. I am writing this with a huge knot in my throat. Reflecting on the last 16 months of my life is hard. It is very, very hard. I find myself wishing every day that my mother was still here. I wish that she could see how much my baby boy has grown. I wish she could watch ‘her Jasper’ as he hits every milestone. My heart is broken, and I struggle every day to go on without my mother. I still find myself picking up my phone to text her or send her photos. Every time something good or bad happens, I want to call her. The hardest reality that I’ve ever had to face, is that I cannot do that.

Close up of baby whose grandmother passed away
Minal Hoddinott Photography

Through all of the heartbreak, one thing is for sure: my baby was a blessing. He was sent here to bring joy to my mother during her struggle with cancer, and to help me get through this experience. I know within the depths of my soul that everything happens for a reason. God timed perfectly the birth of my baby boy and the death of my mother.”

Mother stands in field holding baby son with blanket around her
Minal Hoddinott Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Robyn Curnew, 25, of Stephenville, Newfoundland, Canada. You can follow her family’s journey on InstagramSubmit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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